Last week I shared the news that Dr. Jere Dick, APHIS’ Associate Administrator, is retiring at the end of the year after three distinguished decades of service. Today, I want to let you know that he will be joined by William Clay, our Deputy Administrator for Wildlife Services (WS), who will retire on January 3rd after a 38-year career championing science-based wildlife damage management with a focus on research to identify new solutions and tools for improving the coexistence of people and wildlife.
WS has been a resource for producers and the public since 1885, and over this 132-year span, Bill has the distinction of being the second-longest serving Deputy Administrator having spent 17 years in his current role. Under Bill’s leadership, WS has ushered in several national-scale programs to protect agriculture, natural resources and public health and safety.
As a result of Bill’s vision, the program now works at more than 850 airports across the country, 3 U.S. territories and in 9 foreign countries to protect the flying public from potentially deadly collisions with birds and other wildlife during takeoff and landing. In 2003, Bill established a cadre of trained biologists to conduct wildlife disease monitoring and surveillance in all regions of the United States to look for avian influenza, bovine tuberculosis, and a variety of other diseases to help provide a baseline for the prevalence of such diseases and provide an early warning system for livestock producers. This team can also conduct emergency wildlife surveillance in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.
In 2014, in response to the increasing damage and disease threats posed by expanding feral swine populations in at least 41 States and two territories, Bill helped launch a new, national feral swine program aimed at reducing damage and eliminating this invasive species in targeted areas where they still have a chance to be stopped. Feral swine cost the United States an estimated $1.5 billion each year in damages and control costs. In just three years, WS’ has eliminated feral swine from 2 states and radically decreased populations in five states, helping to reduce impacts to agriculture, natural resources and property.
Programs like these, however, would not be possible without WS’ National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, CO, and Bill has been a strong advocate for science-based research to identify new approaches for solving conflicts with wildlife. In 2003, Bill directed the construction of a new Invasive Species Research Building and a Biosafety-Level 3 Wildlife Disease Research Building on the NWRC campus. The work of scientists at the NWRC campus have helped support a number of natural resource protection programs launched under Bill’s leadership targeting invasive species like the nutria in Maryland and the Gambian giant pouched rat in the Florida Keys. NWRC also made the ground-breaking discovery that acetaminophen—the common pain reliever—is highly effective in reducing invasive brown tree snake populations on the island of Guam.
For these and other accomplishments, Bill was one of 10 USDA senior executives in 2007 to receive the Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award. But anyone who knows Bill, knows he is not the kind of person who seeks recognition. He has a true commitment to service and problem solving and throughout his career he has given his employees, including both scientists and biologists the opportunity to innovate and test new approaches. Just a few examples include identifying more nonlethal approaches for managing problems caused by wildlife, such as the use of scare devices, certain animal husbandry practices and livestock protection dogs to stop attacks on lambs and calves by coyotes and other predators.
During his tenure as Deputy Administrator, Bill has also dramatically increased the number of professional wildlife biologists and scientists working for WS. Approximately 45 percent of the program’s employees, including wildlife biologists and scientists as well as managers and administrators now have bachelors’ or graduate degrees. In 2015, Bill oversaw the successful effort to establish WS’ National Training Academy (NTA) at Mississippi State University where employees can receive continuing education in the safe and effective use of wildlife management tools and techniques, as well as develop the necessary leadership skills to solve wildlife challenges. He also created the Aviation Safety, Training and Operations Center based in Utah to ensure the safety of WS’ aviation activities and the personnel who conduct these activities.
Over the course of his career, Bill has truly helped to change how this country manages damage caused by wildlife—an important public trust responsibility. He is one of those rare leaders who has had the opportunity to establish a long-term vision and then carry out that vision for the benefit of agricultural producers, natural resources managers, the public and his own employees. He has left an indelible imprint on WS, and it has been my honor to work with him over the past 27 years. I wish him the best as he enters this new stage of his life.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.