Employee Profile: Lisa Williams
Dr. Lisa Williams wins Science Leadership Award. USFWS photo by Jim Hudgins.
Lisa Williams serves as the Branch Chief for Environmental Contaminants in the East Lansing Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). She has worked for the Service since completing her Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology – Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University in 1993. Williams and her team work primarily in Michigan and conduct Natural Resource Damage Assessments and Restoration with other trustee agencies and tribes; investigate impacts of contaminants on the health and reproductive success of Great Lakes birds; investigate emerging contaminants and Beneficial Use Impairments at Great Lakes Areas of Concern, assist National Wildlife Refuges on contaminants issues related to acquisition, management and remediation/restoration of Refuges; help protect threaten and endangered species; provide input on federal project and permit reviews; and prepare for and respond to spills of oil and hazardous substances. Recently she has been working on the potential threat of neonicotinoid insecticides, particularly to pollinators and butterflies, including threatened and endangered species and those proposed for listing.
Born and raised in Sycamore, Ill. Williams went to college at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. and then went to graduate school at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. She began her career with the Service working on a Natural Resource Damage Assessment related to releases of PCBs from General Motors facilities along the Saginaw River. She served as the technical lead for the Service as part of the Trustee Council that reached a $28 million settlement with General Motors, and then led the implementation of the settlement which resulted in removal of PCB-contaminated sediments from Saginaw River, restoration of coastal marshes and lake plain prairies, and improved educational and recreational opportunities in the watershed. Since then she has continued to work on NRDAs at large Superfund sites and oil spills. She has also served as an invited expert to assist on other NRDAs around the country, including Commencement Bay, Anniston, and the Hudson River.
In 2010, Williams helped manage the Service’s responses at the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf and the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline release near Marshall, Mich. and provided technical assistance to the Service responders at two pipeline breaks in Illinois that threatened critical habitat for the Hines Emerald Dragonfly. She also worked with Mike Penskar of Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) to improve the U.S. Coast Guard’s response to a spill in Cheboygan, Mich., in an area with listed plants and piping plover critical habitat. In 2011, Williams also helped manage the Service’s response to the pipeline break on the Yellowstone River near Billings, Mont., and provided advice to Service responders in Wisconsin when a coal ash pile slumped into Lake Michigan.
Williams’ Service career is expansive. “I have spent my entire career with the Service as a Contaminants Specialist and then Branch Chief in the East Lansing Field Office, with a few short details to provide assistance to other field offices and a few longer details,” she says.
Service biologist Lisa Williams (center) conducts a planning session during response to the Enbridge spill. USFWS photo.
In addition to leading her team at the East Lansing Field Office, Williams provides assistance, advice and informal mentoring to contaminants specialists across the country and especially within Region 3. In 2011-2012, she served as the Environmental Contaminants Coordinator in Region 6. In 2006-2007, Williams was part of the Service’s Advanced Leadership Development Program and served for 30 days as the Invasive Species Coordinator for Refuges at headquarters and for 60 days as the Refuge Manager at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. As an adjunct professor at Michigan State University, Williams has served on graduate student committees and given numerous guest lectures on both technical topics and careers in science and government. Overall, Williams has shared information in over 60 technical presentations, 80 guest lectures, seminars and public presentations, and is an author on approximately 40 publications.
Williams joined the Service in May, 1993 after making some fortuitous contacts. “While in graduate school I had had several interactions with scientists in the Service and was encouraged to apply for a position at the East Lansing Field Office when one opened up as I was finishing my Ph.D. at Michigan State University.” Williams’ dedication is clear.
“I love the mission of the Service,” she says. “I wanted to apply science to solving real world problems to benefit fish, wildlife and habitats. The Service provides me with the opportunity to do this in a way that is consistent with my values.” Williams was in school when she had an epiphany that changed her life. “While still in graduate school I had already observed how scientific information could be used selectively and decided that I did not want to work either for advocacy groups or private industry,” she says. “Here in the Service I can investigate important issues, provide balanced analyses of technical questions, and accomplish real changes on the ground, both directly through natural resource damage assessment and restoration and through assisting others. On top of all of this, I get to work with talented and dedicated folks who also believe in the Service’s mission.”
Williams also volunteers and helps with youth fishing events held by the Mid-Michigan Steelheaders and performs as Puddles at the annual International Migratory Bird Day celebration in Lansing each year. She has an active personal life, as well.
“Outside of work,” she says, “I love spending time with family and friends, training for and competing in triathlons, gardening, restoring native plants on my rural property and going birding, hiking, paddling, and scuba diving.”
By Valerie Redmond