Martin Miller, 2017 Science Leadership Award Recipient
Marty Miller, the Northeast Region’s Chief of the Division of Endangered Species, is the recipient of one of the 10th Annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Science Awards. These awards recognize Service scientists and technical staff and celebrate their exceptional achievements in the conservation of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats in the public trust.
As the Service faces increasingly complex challenges, the value of current scientific information is rapidly increasing. The Science Leadership Award recognizes supervisors who champion the use of science in conservation decision making and who empower their staff to accomplish scientific work and engage in the scientific community.
“Marty has established himself as an unparalleled thought leader related to all things Endangered Species Act and manages his high-functioning team in a considerate and strategic manner. He is unwavering in his dedication to ensuring the best science is appropriately applied to ESA decisions, whether it is a listing determination, a habitat conservation plan, or an ESA consultation with another federal agency. Marty believes in empowering his team to ‘be science leaders’ and participate in the scientific community through collaborating with other scientists, serving as peer reviewers, serving on graduate committees, presenting at scientific conferences, and authoring numerous scientific publications. This award recognizes Marty as an outstanding science leader, relationship builder, and tackler of complex policy situations through science.” — Greg Sheehan, Principal Deputy Director.
- What is a day in the life of an Endangered Species Chief like?
I spend most of my day talking with field office biologists and supervisors and Regional Office program coordinators about resource and regulatory issues and workload management. I also spend a good bit of time reviewing documents for appropriate policy application. Budget and workforce planning are no small part of the job. I’m always struggling to find time to get past the urgent to focus on the important — how to position the program to meet tomorrow’s demands.
- What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is working with biologists who have a passion for conservation and helping them be successful. I also find policy development rewarding; I enjoy the challenge of making the ESA work for both species and people.
- This award recognizes supervisors who empower staff to accomplish scientific work. Could you tell us about your perspective on this?
The endangered species staff biologists of the FWS are the ones who work with the science day in and day out. They have the technical expertise to determine what science is needed for their work and build partnerships to produce that science. I see my role as assessing and prioritizing those needs across the program. I’m also fortunate to supervise an incredible team of Endangered Species Program Coordinators who are driven to continually make their programs more efficient and effective and more grounded in sound science. The best thing I can do to support them is to give them the time to run with their good ideas.
- The award also highlights your achievements in incorporating science in conservation decision-making. Could you tell us about the importance of that? When is it most critical?
It’s often the case that we’re required to make a decision when we don’t have science that directly answers our questions; in these cases the biologists must draw the most reasonable inferences from the available science. This places a huge responsibility on our biologists to be objective and transparent in dealing with uncertainty. Our biologists take this responsibility seriously. I’ve found that when people are given responsibility, they muster all their knowledge, talents, and determination to meet that expectation. This requires a thorough understanding of our information standards recognizing when to seek input from other experts. I see my job as helping them through this process.
- How do we balance making decisions and workload with the opportunity to continue to gain more science?
We can be highly confident that we’ve made the right decisions in the face of uncertainty, that we’ve drawn the most reasonable inferences from the available science, but it’s always better to reduce the uncertainties so we can make decisions based on stronger inferences. Finding the time and funding to produce new science and perform complex analyses is growing more and more challenging as our staff and budgets decrease. We need to recognize that we can be more efficient and effective in the long run by producing new science that reduces key uncertainties than by continuing to struggle through decision-making in the face of that uncertainty. Because our decisions can have significant consequences for species conservation as well as people’s livelihoods, we have to make it a priority to devote some resources to addressing our greatest science needs.
- Is there a role model who influenced you?
Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune of working for many supervisors and other Service leaders who made me feel that ensuring our decisions are based on sound science was just part of my job, that it wasn’t something to be debated or to consider making exceptions for. You’re in a good place when what you understand to be your job and what you understand to be the right thing to do are the same thing.
- What do you do when you’re not in the office?
I probably spend more time cycling than anything else these days. But I have to admit that when I’m commuting on my bike I’m usually thinking about policy questions. I’ve spent more hours thinking about some of these issues than I care to admit.