Science Excellence

2013 Science Leadership Award

Photo of Jeff Williams. Credit: USFWSDr. Lisa L. Williams


Lisa L. Williams, Ph.D. is the Branch Chief of Environmental Contaminants in the East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office in Michigan.  Dr. Williams is being nominated for this Science Leadership Award not only for her leadership skills in supervising her direct reports, but also for her overall leadership skills.  Lisa leads by example, by exhibiting a high level of integrity, scientific knowledge, ability to assess risks to fish and wildlife resources, and more importantly her ability to utilize those proficiencies to effectively and efficiently manage fish and wildlife resources.  Dr. Williams is highly regarded and recognized for her scientific expertise and leadership skills not only within the Service but also by federal, state, and local partners.  Her passion and dedication to conserving and protecting the nation's natural resources is an inspiration to all who meet her and her ability to instill this passion in others makes her a true leader.  The following leadership examples are provided to substantiate this nomination. 

Award Criteria 1: Demonstration of Leadership Traits

Dr. Williams strongly believes in the development and implementation of scientifically based solutions to promote the protection and welfare of fish and wildlife conservation issues.  One fish and wildlife conservation issue requiring immediate and scientifically based solutions is the threat presented by an unexpected release of hazardous substances such as oil and chemical spills.  These releases, in large enough quantities, are often devastating to natural resources.  Through her leadership roles serving as the Assistant Deputy Branch Director for Wildlife Response - Houma Sector of the Deepwater Horizon Spill and as Branch Director and Deputy Branch Director for Wildlife and Environmental Assessment for the Michigan Enbridge Line 6B Pipeline Spill, Dr. Williams implemented programs utilizing ecologically, scientifically sound and acceptable practices and principles leading to effective and efficient response measures for both spills.  Recognizing there is always room for improvement, Lisa continually strives to improve on practices as is evidenced by her effort to improve pre-spill planning, spill response, and restoration of resources in the event of future spills.  Dr. Williams has served in a leadership role in this arena not only for the Service, but also for other federal, state and local entities.  She served on the Service's Midwest Region cross-programmatic spill planning team in developing guidance for Service employees describing roles and responsibilities in the event of a release of a hazardous substance to the environment, and she has been instrumental in designing numerous spill drills, strongly encouraging Service personnel, including her staff, to participate in those drills.  In addition, Dr. Williams recognized a need to establish protocols to minimize the spread of invasive species during a spill response situation as the spread of invasives could ultimately be more damaging than the spill itself.  She has worked with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard to develop scientifically sound and acceptable disinfection protocols for inclusion in Area Contingency Plans that minimize the spread of invasive species.  These protocols have been shared with Regional Response Teams and are gaining traction for inclusion in Area Contingency Plans in U.S. EPA Region 5 and other inland areas of the United States along with Regional Spill Plans in other Service regions.  This type of planning is critical to minimize adverse impacts to natural resources due to a release of hazardous substances.

Dr. Williams is also recognized internationally as an expert and leader in the environmental toxicology and chemistry field for her ability to objectively evaluate information and analyze scientific data.  Lisa was one of 40 highly regarded scientists invited by the International Joint Commission (IJC) to be part of a two day workshop in Chicago, Illinois to develop advice to the IJC on how to assess exposure to and ecological effects from chemicals of emerging concern in the Great Lakes.  These scientists were tasked with making recommendations on how to design a basin wide surveillance program that could detect ecological problems caused by the changing mixture of thousands of chemicals that are released into our waters every day.  Dr. Williams was able to utilize her scientific knowledge, along with risk assessment and structured decision making to make significant contributions to this important effort. 

Dr. Williams routinely utilizes her ability to make scientifically defensible conservation management decisions and recommendations through spill response and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process.  These processes requires the ability to apply the concepts of environmental toxicology and chemistry to assess risk to natural resources in association with the release of chemicals into the environment, determine the extent of injury to the resource, and then be able to make conservation management decisions and recommendations in order to compensate the American public for the injuries incurred.  This is done through the development of a scientifically defensible claim that can hold up to the scrutiny of litigation if the party responsible for the release of chemicals into the environment disputes the claim.  Lisa has successfully conducted and provided guidance on NRDA settlements (Saginaw Bay and Enbridge) in Michigan that have resulted in multi-millions dollar settlements for the restoration of natural resources.  Most recently, her capability to lead in this process was evident during the summer of 2010 when a pipeline break near Marshall, Michigan released over 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary to the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in the United States.  With disaster looming, Lisa expertly and rapidly applied scientific concepts to assess the risks to natural resources, recommend actions to minimize the extent of possible adverse impacts of the oil on natural resources, guide her staff in the assessment of the injury to the resources, and develop a scientifically defensible, litigation sound claim.  Without Dr. Lisa William's leadership capabilities in applying scientific principles to a real world situation, while under pressure, the negative impact from the release of that volume of oil would have been much worse and the successful restoration of natural resources would not be realized. 

To ensure others are involved and working together Lisa Williams has and continues to utilize and provide forums for communication among professionals in government, business, academia, and other segments of society in support of the protection and welfare of the environment.  Examples include her pursuit to educate and work with others for the common good of natural resources.  Dr. Williams looks for opportunities to engage in seminars, give presentations, participate in workgroups, and advise others regarding the roles and responsibilities of Service personnel in spill planning, spill response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration.  She collaborates with federal (U.S. Department of Agriculture APHIS Wildlife Services, U. S. Coast Guard, U. S. EPA), state, tribal and local entities including industry to discuss lessons learned from the Michigan Enbridge oil spill and other spills, prepare better for future events, and provide for restoration of natural resources.  She has given presentations to help others understand the concepts of Natural Resource Damage Assessment and provides insight and ways for government, business, academia and other segments of society to work together. 

Award Criteria 2: Support for Scientific Activities of Staff

One of the greatest strengths a true leader in science can possess is the foresight and desire to invest in the future of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service by developing and encouraging not only your direct staff, but all Service employees and the youth of today to advance science and the Service's mission.  This is an area where Dr. Williams excels.  As stated previously, Lisa leads by example and supports not only her direct staff, but all employees in scientific activities that advance the conservation and protection of the nations' natural resources.

As Branch Chief of Environmental Contaminants biologists at East Lansing ES Field Office, Dr. Williams recognizes the value of gaining and maintaining scientific proficiencies for her staff. She works directly with staff on annual development of training needs and helps assure training is obtained at the National Conservation Training Center or other institutions.  In addition, Lisa ensures that her staff and other Environmental Contaminants biologists are aware of pertinent training opportunities.  She also works directly with staff on the development of work plans that address the priorities of the Service.  Recently she provided guidance to a group of Environmental Contaminants and Threatened & Endangered Species biologists in the development of a successfully funded proposal to address conservation issues associated with water quality standards and freshwater mussels, a conservation a priority for the Service in the Midwest.

Dr. Lisa Williams regularly mentors, guides and advises staff at the East Lansing Field Office, along with staff at other Ecological Services Field Offices in the Midwest Region.  She is always willing to assist in developing future biologists and ensures that Service biologists are analyzing and presenting scientific results relevant to important service issues.  Recently Dr. Williams coached one of her staff through a complex and successful negotiation regarding an NRDA settlement in Michigan.  She has also served as a mentor for other NRDAR staff practitioners in Michigan and other Midwest Region states.  In addition to NRDAR, Lisa has mentored Environmental Contaminants biologists in both Regions 3 and 6, including providing advice regarding water quality permits; fish passage risk assessments; advising the Great Lakes Restoration Initial Contaminants of Emerging Concern team; and coaching Region 6 biologists on writing technical documents. 

Dr. Williams recognizes the value of maintaining ties to scientific societies and university researchers, including the networking benefits associated with these contacts.  She encourages staff to not only attend conferences for scientific societies such as the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and the International Association of Great Lakes Research, but for biologists to present results of their studies as well.  She encourages staff to become active members of these scientific societies.  Through active participation in these societies and connections with universities both she and her staff are able to make beneficial connections that have resulted in extensive collaborations including collaborations with John Giesy at Michigan State University, and William Bowerman at the University of Maryland.

The future of conservation and the future of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reside in the hands of our youth.  Dr. Lisa Williams constantly seeks to develop the future generation of conservation leaders through mentoring and providing technical assistance to student volunteers at the East Lansing Field Office.  She has served as guest lecturer and instructor on the topic of environmental toxicology and served on numerous panels and round tables related to career development of students interested in the environmental field at Michigan State University. Recently she was invited to serve as one of the judges at Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife's 8th Annual Graduate Student Organization Research Symposium where she reviewed current research of university students in fisheries and wildlife ecology, management, and human dimensions. 

The above examples are a mere snapshot of Dr. Lisa William's leadership and dedication to the conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources for the American people.  Dr. Lisa Williams is an exemplary employee who epitomizes the criteria of, and is truly worthy of, the Service's Science Leadership award.

Midwest Region News Release: Lisa Williams Wins USFWS Science Leadership Award!


Back to Science Awards

Last updated: March 21, 2017

Please send comments, suggestions and questions for this Web site to: Megan Cook at

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home Page | Department of the Interior  |  | About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  | Accessibility  | Privacy  | Notices  | Disclaimer  | FOIA