Cynthia Martinez is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System — a system that provides habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptiles and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish. As part of her role, Martinez, who has been with the agency for 30 years, leads the management of over 850 million acres of public lands and waters set aside for the purpose of conserving America’s fish, wildlife and plants.
A fifth-generation New Mexican, Martinez grew up in a close-knit family. She flourished in school as an athlete, musician, and fisherwoman. She graduated from New Mexico State with a Bachelor of Science in general biology and earned a Master of Science in fisheries and wildlife management from the University of Arizona.
Martinez began her career with the Fish and Wildlife Service in the mid-1990s as a contaminants biologist in the Ecological Services office in Phoenix. She then moved to the Southern Nevada Ecological Services Office in Las Vegas, where for over 15 years she held various positions from fisheries biologist to field supervisor. From 2007 to 2010, she served as refuge manager at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex – one of the largest wildlife refuge complexes in the contiguous United States. There she worked with a wide variety of partners on issues as diverse as coexisting with an Air Force bombing range, saving endangered pupfish, and developing the Neon to Nature advertising campaign to attract people visiting Las Vegas to the refuges.
Martinez came to Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters in September 2010 as chief of the Refuge System’s Division of Visitor Services and Communications, where she led the process for developing the Refuge System’s 2011 Conserving the Future vision conference. Named deputy chief of the Refuge System in 2012, three years later Martinez was selected as Chief, the first woman and Hispanic to lead the Refuge System.
During her tenure as Chief, Martinez has championed the implementation of numerous recommendations from a renewed vision from 2011 — Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation. This includes transforming and modernizing Refuge Law Enforcement and an internal rebranding effort to ensure that all Americans recognize that wildlife refuges are necessary for both humans and wildlife to thrive. And through the creation and expansion of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, she has led efforts to take wildlife conservation to the places where most Americans live – cities and suburbs – and engage people and communities traditionally excluded from wildlife conservation and opportunities to experience nature.