June 28, 2013

In this Issue


On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term.

“Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires.

Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent.

President Obama also mentioned the Keystone pipeline in his speech. Environmental groups have ardently urged him to reject approval of the pipeline, in part by stating it would have negative consequences related to climate change. While the president did not state what his administration will ultimately decide, he stated “the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” The draft environmental impact statement released in March claimed the pipeline would have a negligible impact on the environment as long as certain regulatory safeguards are appropriately implemented.

The president also sought to reaffirm the consensus among scientists on humanity’s contribution to climate change. “The overwhelming judgment of science — of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements — has put all that to rest,” he said.  “Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest.  They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.”  

He also took time to rebuke climate change skeptics. “Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real,” said President Obama. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” he continued to applause.  “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.  And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.”

Reaction among leaders on Capitol Hill was typically partisan with Democrats praising the environmental and health benefits of the president’s plan and Republicans describing  it as a threat to job creation and energy development. “I am disappointed the president has once again signaled his intent to move forward with new rules that will make energy more expensive for hardworking American families,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The president plans to use executive orders to bypass Congress and create more red tape that will increase the price of electricity and gasoline. And the president’s plan will have little or no impact on climate change.” House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) hailed the proposal, asserting that the “directives outlined by the president finally put the United States in a position to lead the globe on the critical issue of climate change.”

Given that Republicans control only the US House of Representatives, Congress’s ability to block the administration’s regulatory efforts will not be insurmountable, but it will be limited. Industry groups can be expected to challenge some of the proposed regulations through the judicial system. The US Supreme Court is already slated to take up a review of EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which seeks to regulate air pollution that crosses state lines.

For additional information on the plan, click here:


To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here:



This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers.

The House and Senate bills differ by $4 billion in their funding amounts, potentially setting up new conflicts during the conference process this fall and potentially, leading to a continuing resolution or a government shutdown if no agreement is reached between the House and Senate on overall discretionary spending levels for FY 2014. The House bill accounts for continued implementation of sequestration through FY 2014 while the Senate bill does not. House appropriators also are seeking to boost defense spending in FY 2014 and plan to adhere to the overall sequestration levels by cutting overall non-defense discretionary spending even further.

The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The DOE Office of Science would be funded at $4.7 billion, slightly above the sequester, yet 5.7 percent lower than pre-sequester FY 2012. It was approved by the House Appropriations Committee June 26 along party lines by a vote of 28-21.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) asserts the cuts are necessary to maintain national security and economic investments, including funding the Army Corps. Under the House bill, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $4.9 billion in FY 2014, two percent below the pre-sequester enacted level for FY 2013. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey called for an additional $2.6 billion in funding for the Army Corps., citing the agency’s $60 billion backlog in authorization projects. The measure also includes a provision blocking funding for any effort to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction over regulating wetlands.

The Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill was approved June 27, by a bipartisan vote of 24-6. Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member  Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the bill, concurring with the view of House Republicans that it should be funded in accordance with existing sequester levels. Energy and Water Subcommittee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), along with Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS),  Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) joined committee Democrats in supporting the bill.

In contrast to the House measure, the Senate bill includes a $300 million boost over pre-sequester FY 2013 spending levels for the Army Corps, $287 million above pre-sequester FY 2013 spending levels for the DOE Office of Science, a $114 million increase for ARPA-E and a $470 million increase for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to enact overall appropriations that adhere to the pre-sequester Budget Control Act levels. They insist the sequester should be addressed, not through appropriations, but in a separate long-term deficit reduction agreement.

Before the conference process between the two chambers begins, each body must pass its bill individually. The steep cuts in the House bill will make it unlikely it will get much support from House Democrats, meaning Republican leadership will likely have to rely on the votes of their own conference in order to get it passed. The partisan gridlock increases the likelihood that continuing resolutions will be necessary to fund the government when FY 2013 ends on Sept. 30.

For additional information on the Senate Energy and Water bill, click here:


For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, click here:



In a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court this week ruled that governments can owe compensation to property owners who are denied land development permits. The court affirmed that a Florida resident who sought building permits to develop his land could pursue a property rights claim against the St. Johns River Water Management District. The water management district had refused to approve his project unless he made certain concessions, including spending money to improve public lands elsewhere.

Coy Kootnz Sr. had sought to develop 3.7 acres of land that the water management district classified as a habitat protection zone. State regulators requested that he reduce the size of the development area to a single acre and that he hire contractors to make improvements to other district-owned wetlands. Kootnz did not comply with these requests and his permit was consequently denied. 

The opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, serves to place greater restrictions on what standards government regulators place on permit applications. In its opinion, the court cited Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, and Dolan v. City of Tigard, which held that a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner to give up the use of their property unless a “nexus” and rough proportionality” is present between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use.

The Supreme Court opinion reverses the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court, which held that the Nollan-Dolan standard applies to the approval, not the denial, of a permit and that the standard does not apply to a demand for the payment of money, in contrast to a specific burden on property interest. Traditionally, the standard has applied in instances where an approved permit includes a condition that the property owner relinquishes some property. Alito argued that the standard should apply even in instances of a denied permit because landowners are particularly vulnerable to coercion in the land permit process.

The dissenting opinion was penned by Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who agreed with the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion that the Nollan-Dolan standard does not apply to a monetary requirement. Kagen asserted that the majority “threatens to subject a vast array of land-use regulations, applied daily in states and localities throughout the country, to heightened constitutional scrutiny.” Her opinion was joined by the liberal wing of associate justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The full opinion is available here:



On May 31, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its five year strategic plan for further investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education. The plan outlines a series of priorities to help federal agencies expand STEM Education in the United States.

Overall, the plan seeks to improve STEM participation in the United States both across all educational levels and in the workforce. In line with the proposal outlined in the president’s FY 2014 budget, the plan also seeks to consolidate all STEM programs under the Department of Education (K-12), the National Science Foundation (undergraduate and post graduate), and the Smithsonian Institution (informal education). The plan’s recommendations include:

  • Improve STEM instruction among the existing STEM Education teacher workforce.
  • Increase youth and public engagement in STEM Education.
  • Enhance the STEM experience among undergraduate students.
  • Better serve women, minority groups and the economically disadvantaged who are historically underrepresented in STEM-related fields.
  • Increase STEM participation in the US workforce by providing graduate-trained STEM professionals with basic and applied research expertise.

The strategy was developed by the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education (CoSTEM), which was authorized under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358). Under the law, the strategic plan is to be updated every five years.

View the strategic plan here:


Additional information on CoSTEM is available here:



The American Association for the Advancement of Science has released its annual Research &Development report summarizing the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request and its impact on funding for science research.  The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a long-time contributor to the annual budget analysis.

The report focuses on a number of federal agencies and programs of importance to the scientific community. ESA’s contribution, in collaboration with the American Institute on Biological Sciences, highlights federal programs of importance to the biological and ecological science community, including initiatives at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the United States Geological Survey.

To view the biological and ecological sciences chapter, click here:


To view other individual agencies or sections of the report, click here:



Approved by House Committee    

On June 19, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bills:

H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal combustion waste as a hazardous substance. The bill was approved by a vote of 31-16.

H.R. 2226, the Federal and State Partnership for Environmental Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill would require EPA to consult with states on removal or remediation actions, as well as offer credit to states when the cost of cleanup is shared for in-kind contributions.

H.R. 2279, the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act – Introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill would strike a deadline from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLCA) pertaining to financial assurance requirements from the owners of a hazardous facility, based on injury risk. The bill was approved 25-18.

H.R. 2318, the Federal Facility Accountability Act – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) the bill would require that federal entities comply with state and local laws while conducting a CERCLA cleanup and would allow EPA to review any actions taken by a delegate in a CERCLA cleanup. The bill was approved by a vote of 26 to 18.

Failed House

H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), the comprehensive $940 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs though Fiscal Year 2018. Overall the bill cuts $40 billion over the next decade, largely from mandatory and nutritional programs, which led to opposition from a majority of House Democrats. These cuts also include $6.9 billion from conservation programs. The bill also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13.

The bill failed to pass the House June 20, by a vote of 195-234 with 62 Republicans opposing the bill and 171 supporting it. Among Democrats, 172 opposed the bill and 24 supported it. Any Democratic support that Republican leadership had depended on to clear the bill was scratched by Republican amendments that placed a number of added requirements on food stamp recipients. Republicans also blamed conservative advocacy groups like Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth for chipping away at Republican support for the bill. Conservatives argued that the bill didn’t cut food stamp programs enough.

Passed House

H.R. 1613, the Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), the bill would implement the US-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, a bipartisan February 2012 agreement that created a framework for US offshore drilling companies and Mexico’s Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to jointly develop oil in the Gulf of Mexico, outside both countries’ economic zone waters. The bill also includes a waiver to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203) requiring energy companies to report mineral payments to foreign governments. The inclusion of the Dodd-Frank disclosure waiver led to strong opposition from a majority of House Democrats as well as a veto threat from the Obama administration. The bill passed June 27 by a vote of 256-171. Twenty-eight Democrats joined a majority of Republicans in supporting the bill. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) was the only Republican to vote against it.

H.R. 2231, Offshore Energy and Jobs Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would open new areas for offshore drilling. Specifically, the bill directs the Interior Department to develop a new five-year offshore leasing plan that makes available for oil and gas exploration and development at least 50 percent of the unleased coastal areas with the most potential for energy production. The bill passed the House June 28 by a vote of 235-186. All but six Republicans supported the bill while all but 16 Democrats opposed the bill. The Obama administration issued a veto threat against the measure, asserting its provisions include “unworkable deadlines” for appropriate environmental review that is critical for National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Clean Water Act compliance. The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the bill.

Two amendments that sought to protect wildlife areas from offshore development failed. The Peter DeFazio (D-OR) amendment to protect the Bristol Bay fishery off the coast of Alaska failed 183-235. Three Republicans (Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Dave Reichert (WA) and Michele Bachmann (MN)) joined all but 15 Democrats in supporting the amendment. Another amendment from California Democrats Lois Capps, Julia Brownley and Alan Lowenthal to prohibit oil and gas development in the Southern California planning area (which includes Santa Barbara, San Diego and Los Angeles and nine other counties) failed 176-241. Seventeen Democrats joined all Republicans in opposition to the amendment.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1202, Safeguarding America’s Future and the Environment (SAFE)  Act – Introduced June 20 by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would require federal agencies that manage natural resources to adopt climate change adaptation plans that are consistent with the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, released this year by the Obama Administration. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 1232, the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act – Introduced June 26 by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) the bill would formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, created by President Obama in 2009 to address aquatic invasive species, toxics and contaminated sediment, nonpoint source pollution and other ecological threats to the Great Lakes. It would also reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy program, which supports the removal of contaminated sediments, and the Great Lakes National Program Office, which handles Great Lakes matters for the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 1240, Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 – Introduced June 27 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill would set up a new organizational process for identifying new temporary and permanent sites for storing nuclear waste. Among its provisions, the bill would call for the creation of a Nuclear Waste Administration to site temporary and permanent repositories for radioactive waste from U.S. reactors. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Passed Senate

S.352the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill designates roughly 30,500 acres of land in the Siuslaw National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management’s Coos District as wilderness and protects about 14 miles of the Wasson and Franklin Creeks. The bill passed the Senate June 19 by unanimous consent and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

 Sources AAAS, ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, POLITICO, Reuters, Senate Appropriations Committee, Scoutsblog.com, the White House


Dynamic interplay of ecology, infectious disease, and human life

Spillover of infectious wildlife diseases to domestic animals and people and the link between environmental processes and human health

ESA2013 Minneapolis badge

For immediate release:  Thursday, 27 June 2013                        

Contact: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x 205; nadine@esa.org

or Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org




Two symposia focusing on the ecological dynamics of infectious diseases such as avian influenza, Yellow Fever, and Lyme will take place during the Ecological Society of America’s 98th Annual Meeting, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One will look at human influences on viral and bacterial diseases through our alteration of landscapes and ecological processes, while the other will focus on the emerging field of eco-epidemiology that seeks to integrate biomedical and ecological research approaches to address human health threats.

The symposium on Monday, August 5, will take a deeper look at a range of human activities that affect infectious disease. Though we often think of diseases as simply being “out there” in the environment, our own actions—like feeding outdoor birds—can influence the abundance, diversity and distribution of wildlife species and thus, infectious diseases in wildlife, many of which have the potential to also infect us.

“New human settlements, the spread of agriculture, and the increasing proximity of people, their pets, and livestock to wild animals, increase the probability of disease outbreaks,” said session organizer Courtney Coon, with the University of Florida. “We’re particularly interested in learning more about how urban and other environments that we dramatically change affect the susceptibility and transmission potential of animals that are hosts or vectors of disease.”

What are the key determinants of spillover of wildlife diseases to domestic animals and humans?  Why is the prevalence of pathogens in wildlife living in urban areas often altered from counterparts in less developed environments?  Speakers will address these and more questions in the symposium, that will also include a session highlighting ways in which citizen scientists can contribute important information that helps track avian diseases.   

The symposium on Tuesday, August 6, will continue the theme of infectious disease but with an eye toward integrating biomedical and ecological approaches to aid investigation and control of emerging zoonotic diseases. 

“Environmental processes and human health are linked and we’d like to chart a future in which ecologists and epidemiologists more routinely work in tandem to address health problems,” said symposium organizer Jory Brinkerhoff. 

Those studying human diseases may overlook possible ecological factors. For example, most Lyme disease cases in the eastern United States occur in the North even though the black-legged tick, which transmits the bacterium, may be found throughout the eastern US. The answer is likely tied to ecological factors such as the variety of host species that occur across the Eastern range. Meanwhile, disease ecologists may neglect to integrate human ecology in their studies. For instance, human life histories and social dynamics are critically important in the success or failure of managing the mosquito-borne virus, dengue.

“Disease ecologists and epidemiologists address some of the same kinds of questions yet operate largely in isolation of one another,” said Brinkerhoff. “We’re bringing them together to share their approaches and study designs and strengthen our ability to address public health issues.”

SYMPOSIUM 2 – Disease Ecology in Human-Altered Landscapes. Monday, August 5, 2013: 1:30 PM – 5 PM, 205AB, Minneapolis Convention Center.

Organizer/Moderator: Courtney Coon, University of South Florida

Co-Organizer: James Adelman, Virginia Tech


· Parviez Hosseini, EcoHealth Alliance

· Matthew Ferrari, Penn State University

· A. Marm Kilpatrick, University of California, Santa Cruz

· Raina Plowright, Pennsylvania State University

· Sonia Altizer, University of Georgia

· Becki Lawson, Zoological Society of London

SYMPOSIUM 8 – Eco-Epidemiology: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Addressing Public Health Problems.  Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 1:30 PM – 5 PM, 205AB Minneapolis Convention Center.

Organizer/Moderator: Jory Brinkerhoff, University of Richmond

Co-Organizer: Maria Diuk-Wasser, Yale School of Public Health


· Maria Diuk-Wasser, Yale School of Public Health

· Daniel Salkeld, Colorado State University

· Mark Wilson, University of Michigan

· James Holland Jones, Stanford University

· Harish Padmanabha, National Center for Socio-Environmental Synthesis

· Jean Tsao, Michigan State University

Media Attendance

The Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting, Aug. 4-9, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is free for reporters with a recognized press card and institutional press officers. Registration is also waived for current members of the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Interested press should contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or 202-833-8773 x211 to register.  In a break from previous policy, meeting presentations are not embargoed.

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org

Declining fortunes of Yellowstone’s migratory elk

Are human choices redefining the fitness of an ancient survival strategy?


Media advisory

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org


In the late spring, the 4000 elk of the Clarks Fork herd leave crowded winter grounds near Cody, Wyoming, following the greening grass into the highlands of the Absaroka Mountains, where they spend the summer growing fat on vegetation fed by snowmelt. It’s a short trip (40-60 kilometers) by migratory standards, and by modern standards, uncommonly free of roads, fences, metropolitan areas, and other human-built barriers. But it crosses an important human boundary: the border into Yellowstone National Park.

Twenty-five minute old elk calf in Mammoth Hot Springs. Jim Peaco; Yellowstone National Park. June 9, 2010

A Twenty-five minute old elk calf at Mammoth Hot Springs. Credit, Jim Peaco; Yellowstone National Park. June 9, 2010

The costs of migrating to the high green pastures have lately outstripped the benefits, according to a research report in the June issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology, published last week. Arthur Middleton and colleagues at the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the migratory Clarks Fork herd has been returning to winter grounds with fewer and fewer calves over the last few decades. Herds that remain in the vicinity of Cody year-round have more surviving calves. Middleton et al. attribute the change in migratory fortunes to climate change and a resurgence within the park of predators that hunt newborn elk calves.

In a Forum edited by Marco Festa-Bianchet, of the Université de Sherbrooke, Québec, five working groups of ecologists commented on the data, praising Middleton and colleagues’ work, but, in some cases, challenging their interpretation. Middleton and colleagues addressed the commentary in a rebuttal.

Historically, migratory hoofed beasts like elk have outnumbered sedentary members of their species by as much as an order of magnitude. John Fryxell, a Forum contributor, wrote a classic paper on this effect in the American Naturalist in 1988. Migration allows animals to capitalize on seasonal foods and to shelter from predators and the elements. Elk and their hooved brethren have benefited from chasing the spring “green-up” into higher terrain as snow retreats, leaving behind, at least temporarily, their predators, which are pinned down by the needs of young pups and cubs.

Middleton’s observations therefore demonstrate a severe reversal of fortunes. Ecologists have reported troubled times for migrating animals all over the world, and attributed the problems to habitat changes wrought by human development and climate change. Middleton et al. point to the same influences, but draw a subtle distinction which they believe makes this a novel case study.

The Yellowstone elk enjoy some of the best open range of modern times, and a migratory path unimpeded by conspicuous physical barriers of modern infrastructure. Middleton et al argued that drought and the return of predators, specifically bears, to Yellowstone are causing the observed low pregnancy rate and low calf survival for migratory elk.

“Many of the forum commentaries discuss the implications of our work for management and conservation of large carnivores and their prey in Yellowstone, especially wolves,” said Middleton. “However, a persistent focus on the impact of re-introduced wolves among scientists, wildlife managers, and the public misses key roles of grizzly bears and severe drought in limiting elk populations.”

Global Positioning System (GPS) locations from a representative sample of migratory (black circles, n = 10) and resident (white circles, n = 13) elk (Cervus elaphus) used to delineate seasonal ranges. From Fig. 1 of Middleton et al.

Global Positioning System (GPS) locations from a representative sample of migratory (black circles, n = 10) and resident (white circles, n = 13) elk (Cervus elaphus) used to delineate seasonal ranges. From Fig. 1 of Middleton et al.

Over the last two decades, summers have been hotter and dryer in the summer range of the migratory Clarks Fork elk. Satellite imagery shows that the length of spring vegetation “green-up,”  a critical time for female elk to gain the fat the need to support reproduction, shortened by 27 days over 21 years. During the same time period, wolves were reintroduced to the park, and the numbers of wolves and bears are growing. Both pressures are ultimately the result of human choices through our manipulations of predators and increasingly fierce drought that many studies have linked to human-caused climate change, the authors said.

Wyoming Fish and Wildlife irrigates fields in the Sunlight Basin Wildlife Habitat Management Area, 40 miles northwest of Cody, to provide forage for elk. Forum contributors Chris Wilmers and Taal Levi show that the non-migratory elk use the irrigated fields more heavily during drought years. Migrating elk do not receive this subsidy.

“I think Middleton has an intriguing idea, and it might be what’s happening. We offer another hypothesis that also fits the data that they have. He says it’s climate change on the summer range and more predators on the summer range. I think it’s because there is irrigation that provides the sedentary elk with food. And I think it’s also that there is predator control outside the park,” said Wilmers.

While wolves and grizzlies have been thriving inside the park, predator control measures have intensified outside the park, Wilmers said. “My hypothesis is that in that crucial winter period, the migrants are coming down to range that the resident elk have already been feeding on all summer, and now they are competing for in the winter,” he said. To distinguish between these two stories would require hypothesis testing, he said – pitting them against each other and testing them with more data.

Jack Massey, Sarah Cubaynes, and Tim Coulsen of Oxford University joined the conversation with their contribution “Will central Wyoming elk stop migrating to Yellowstone, and should we care?” The trends in vegetation and predator differential across the park boundary are compelling, they commented, but have those factors caused the change in elk demographics? Middleton et al.’s data cannot answer those questions, the Oxford group wrote. “We don’t wish to sound critical of the huge effort they have put in. Nonetheless, despite their hard work, their data on elk condition and pregnancy rates come from a relatively small number of animals collected over only a relatively short time period. Given this, they are restricted to conducting a few piecemeal analyses and telling some compelling stories. But the problem with this approach is that it is easy to construct very many compelling stories.”

Massey et al wrapped up their commentary with the reflection that the Middleton paper, like many reports which mention both wolves and elk, will likely be appropriated for political ends, and used by proponents of large elk herds as evidence that wolves are destroying the elk population. The causes of elk decline, however, are not so clear or so simple. Should we maximize elk herds for hunting? Farm the animals? Leave the system to find its own equilibrium (to the extent that is possible in a human dominated world)?

“As ever with such debate, whether we should care all depends on one’s view on what our wilderness should look like,” the Oxford group concluded.The answer to their title question depends on personal and community values, and cannot be answered by science alone.


Forum—Ecological Change and Migratory Ungulates


The Forum is available as a single pdf. Please contact Liza Lester.



Author contacts:

Arthur Middleton


Yale School of Forestry &
Environmental Studies



Chris Wilmers


University of California, Santa Cruz

(831) 459-3001


Journalists and public information officers can gain access to full texts of all ESA publications by contacting the public affairs office. Email Liza Lester, llester@esa.org.

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.


To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org.

Ecological Society of America announces 2013 award recipients

ESA2013 Minneapolis badgeFor Immediate Release: Monday, 17 June 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x 205; nadine@esa.org
or Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org



During the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 98th Annual Meeting, the Society will present ten awards recognizing outstanding contributions to ecology.  The awards ceremony will take place on Monday, August 5 at 8 AM in the auditorium of the Minneapolis Convention Center. More information about ESA awards is available here.  

Braun Award:  Tony Kovach

Kovach is recognized for the design and methodology of his poster entitled “Determinants of avian density across a fragmented landscape.”  Kovach’s 2012 poster presentation was based on his M.S. research at the University of Hawai’i – Hilo. The Braun Award recognizes a student’s outstanding poster presentation at the ESA Annual Meeting and is presented at the following year’s meeting.

 Buell Award: Kate Boersma

Boersma is honored for her 2012 oral paper “Top predator extinctions in drying streams modify community structure and ecosystem functioning” that was based on her doctoral work at Oregon State University. The Buell Award is given to a student for an outstanding oral paper presented at the ESA Annual Meeting and is presented at the following year’s meeting.

W.S. Cooper Award: John Thompson, Anne Charpentier, G. Bouguet, Faustine Charmasson, Stephanie Roset, Bruno Buatois, Philippe Vernet, Pierre-Henri Gouyon

Thompson, with the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle & Evolutive, and colleagues are being recognized for their paper Evolution of a genetic polymorphism with climate change in a Mediterranean landscape, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy.  The study found rapid and ongoing evolutionary change associated with strong environmental change.  The Cooper Award honors an outstanding contribution to the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients.

Honorary Member Award: Christian Körner

A strong scientific leader for European science, Körner, with the University of Basel, is known for his innovative approach in studying the response of mature trees to increased carbon dioxide (CO2). His work has enhanced understanding of the ways in which plants respond differently to CO2 and raised critical questions about what controls growth in trees. Recipients of the Honorary Member Award are distinguished ecologists who have made exceptional contributions to ecology and whose principal residence and site of ecological research are outside of North America.

George Mercer Award: Pieter Johnson and Jason Hoverman

Johnson, at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Hoverman, with Purdue University, used a novel approach in their 2012 Proceedings of the National Academy paper Parasite diversity and coinfection determine pathogen infection success and host fitness.  Their study demonstrates how an ecological approach can contribute deeper understanding of biomedical questions.  The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding and recently-published ecological research paper by a young scientist.

Eugene P. Odum Education Award: Martin Main

Main, with the University of Florida, is honored for developing the highly innovative and successful Florida Master Naturalist Program, a state-wide environmental education initiative for professionals and laypeople that has awarded more than 7,000 certificates and resulted in 160,000 hours of volunteer environmental education, monitoring and restoration service. Through teaching, outreach and mentoring activities, recipients of the Eugene P. Odum Award have demonstrated their ability to relate basic ecological principles to human affairs.

Eminent Ecologist Award: William Reiners 

Reiners’ career in ecology spans 50 years and has deepened the philosophical and conceptual foundations of ecology. Among his influential papers are a series on nitrogen dynamics in New England forests and pioneering long-term studies at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Reiners, now at the University of Wyoming, most recently coauthored a book that explores the philosophy of ecology. The Eminent Ecologist Award is given to a senior ecologist in recognition of an outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit.

Distinguished Service Citation: Wes Jackson 

ESA recognizes Jackson’s long-standing efforts through the Land Institute, which he co-founded with his wife 30 years ago, to champion agricultural practices that use a variety of crop species and minimize erosion and the use of chemicals. Jackson has authored numerous books, including Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2011). The Distinguished Service Citation recognizes long and distinguished service to ESA, to the larger scientific community or to the larger purpose of ecology in the public welfare.

Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award: Sonia Ortega

Ortega, who works for the National Science Foundation (NSF), is honored for her leadership in developing diversity enhancing programs within the Ecological Society of America and working to improve the diversity of scientists across all Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Ortega contributed to ESA’s Women and Minorities in Ecology report and spearheaded STEM pipeline development programs at the NSF, among many other diversity initiatives. This ESA award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach.

Sustainability Science Award: Pamela Matson

Matson and a team of fourteen interdisciplinary researchers documented 15 years of agricultural development in the Yaqui Valley, Mexico, one of the most intensive agricultural regions of the world, and its transition to more sustainable management. Matson, with Stanford University, is editor of the book Seeds of Sustainability: Lessons from the Birthplace of the Green Revolution (2011) that reflects the team’s findings and insights. The Sustainability Award is given to the authors of a scholarly work that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.


To learn more about the August 4 – 9, 2013 ESA Annual Meeting see:  http://www.esa.org/minneapolis/

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

June 14, 2013

In this Issue


On June 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing examining the Obama Administration’s proposed reorganization of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) programs outlined in its proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Under the plan, 110 of 226 federal agency STEM programs would be eliminated. The plan would house STEM programs primarily under three agencies: the Department of Education (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI). DOE would oversee K-12 programs, NSF would oversee undergraduate and graduate programs while the Smithsonian would be responsible for informal science education. The proposal, an effort on the part of the administration to deal with the reality of current fiscal constraints, was met with inquiries and skepticism from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and former chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) were all particularly concerned with the reorganization’s impact on STEM programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The reorganization would cut NASA programs by one-third. NASA’s STEM programs would lose $50 million under the reorganization effort.  There were also bipartisan concerns that the reorganization does not include enough focus on vocational training programs or programs that seek to increase STEM participation among underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 required the National Science and Technology Council to establish a Committee on STEM (CoSTEM) to develop a five-year strategic plan to improve coordination of STEM education programs. Chairman Smith expressed concern that the reorganization proposal was released as part of the budget request before the strategic plan was completed. When asked by Chairman Smith whether the budget proposal influenced the CoSTEM strategic plan, NSF Assistant Director Joan Ferrini-Mundy responded that the plan’s development was “an ongoing process” that was being worked on “during the time of the budget and beyond.”

Members of Congress expressed concern that the reorganization effort was decided primarily through the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with little input from school districts, non-profits, universities or the federal agency program managers responsible for the programs slated for elimination. “In addition to being concerned about the process, I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself.  To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren noted that no one wants to see their own programs reduced or eliminated.

Ranking Member Johnson also noted that the SI has no federal research facilities, no external grant making power and lacks the stakeholder networks of other agencies. Holdren asserted that SI is working with CoSTEM on how to best implement the reorganization effort and that CoSTEM will be the focal point for its implementation.

Additionally, there was concern that DOE may not currently have the staff capacity to implement its new responsibilities and the reorganizational effort overall may hamper the administration’s ability to adequately carry out its STEM education initiatives.  Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD), who described herself as a “skeptic” of the proposal, had the following words of advice for OSTP Director Holdren and the other witnesses: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix that.”

View the full hearing here:



On June 8, the White House announced that the United States had reached an agreement with China to reduce the use of use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

HFCs are greenhouse gases used in refrigerator and air conditioner appliances. The most common types of HFCs are anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet. According to the White House, HFC emissions could grow to nearly 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 if left unaddressed. The participating nations would work collectively through the Montreal Protocol, established in 1987 to facilitate a global approach to combat ozone layer depletion.

For the past four years, the North American nations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico have proposed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, but China and India had held out due to concern the burden would fall more heavily on developing nations. The new agreement would require developed countries like the United States and those in the European Union to move first to replace harmful HFCs with alternative chemicals, and then would call upon developing countries like China and India to do the same after a negotiated grace period. The developed world would provide financial assistance to the developing world in meeting the agreement. India is expected to formally join the agreement as early as this year.

The four co-chairs of the Congressional Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which include Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), sent a letter to President Obama earlier this month to urge China’s president to support reduction of HFCs. In a press statement on behalf of the task force, Waxman iterated “The United States and China working together to tackle climate change is a major breakthrough.  A global phase-down of HFCs would eliminate more heat-trapping gases by 2050 than the United States emits in an entire decade.”

For the full announcement, click here:


The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change letter is available here:



On June 7, the National Science Foundation (NSF) published a new guidance memorandum regarding provision of a recently enacted law that restricts political science research funding through its social and behavioral sciences directorate.

“The Political Science Program in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) will continue to engage panels to review grant proposals, using the two National Science Board approved merit review criteria (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts),” states the memorandum. “Panels will also be asked to provide input on whether proposals meet one or both of the additional criteria required for exceptions under P.L. 113-6, i.e., promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The memorandum notes that due to the new law, funding approval for NSF projects related to political science “may be delayed.”

Enacted through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-6) through language sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), existing law requires NSF to now restrict the issuance of political science grants solely to research projects that contribute to economic or national security interests. To view the guidance memo, click here: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13101/nsf13101.pdf?utm_source=NEWScience+Policy+%3A%3A+Week+in+Review&utm_campaign=65fb8e0d1b-Week+in+Review+Email&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6375e1e0ef-65fb8e0d1b-416493685 



On June 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard heard from witnesses on the importance of ocean research. The witness list included renowned Oscar-winning film director and environmentalist James Cameron.

After commenting on the length of the line outside the hearing room and praising the star witness, Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK) noted that Cameron is one of only three humans to descend 6.8 miles into the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans while, in contrast, 500 people have traveled into outer space. He added that only 20-25 percent of the marine life in existence has been identified and 90 percent of the ocean floor remains uncharted. “Whether it’s ocean acidification, sea level rise, warming water temperatures or shifting fish populations, our oceans are changing,” said Begich. “If we are to prepare for these changes, we have to be better and more understanding of the oceans.” Both Chairman Begich and Subcommittee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS) noted the importance of ocean research to their states and emphasized strengthening public-private partnerships in advancing ocean research, particularly in light of current fiscal constraints.

Cameron compared the ocean floor to an unexplored “dark continent,” noting that ocean trenches’ total area is larger than the entire continent of North America. He also noted his dives found new life forms never before recorded by science. He talked about the “Deep Sea Challenger,” a privately constructed submersible, which served as his vehicle of exploration into the ocean depths. His scientific team discovered 68 new species, which were presented at the December 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Cameron said that additional funding for ocean research is needed to help understand changes associated with global warming. “The ocean is an engine that drives weather, including the higher precipitation and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, the severe droughts and so on that are associated with climate change,” said Cameron. “To understand weather and climate, we must understand the ocean. And to do so, we can’t just sense them from satellites. They’re a vast three dimensional volume that is opaque from above. We need instruments and vehicles down there in the water column.” He also called for more investment in Science, Technology and Mathematics Engineering education.

Other witnesses included Susan Avery, Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who urged the Senate to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 as well as the America COMPETES Act to further ocean research. Ed Paige, Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Exchange, noted how ocean observation systems provided through public-private partnerships among universities, government agencies and private companies have aided response to extreme weather events and environmental hazards. Jan Newton, Senior Principle Oceanographer with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington discussed the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, NANOOS, which is part of the United States Integrated Ocean Observing System Program. Both Newton and Page called for reauthorization of the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observing System (ICOOS) Act of 2009 to sustain and enhance ocean observation systems.

View the full hearing here:



On June 12, House Space, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) issued a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe requesting the scientific data the agency uses to make determinations on the health benefits of its air quality rules.

The letter criticizes EPA for still not providing the data as well as for not following up on a similar letter sent to Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in March. McCarthy is also President Obama’s nominee to succeed departed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “EPA officials should justify their agenda through an open and transparent process that is based on good science, if they can,” states the June letter. “EPA has projected that its upcoming ozone standard will be the most costly environmental regulation in U.S. history.  Working families will bear these costs.  They have a right to know what scientific data supports EPA’s claims.” 

The letter comes on the heels of a House Space, Science and Technology Subcommittee hearing earlier that day on EPA’s plans to review its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The Clean Air Act directs EPA to review its ozone standards every five years. During the last review in 2008, the ozone standard was set at 75 parts per billion (ppb). While EPA has not yet announced a further reduction, Republican committee members are concerned the agency may lower the limit to 70 ppb. They also argued that EPA underestimates the role of background ozone which comes from natural sources such as wildfires or lightening as well as ozone from other countries outside US regulation.

“Failure to acknowledge these uncontrollable concentrations could lead to EPA setting a new ozone standard next year that is at or near background levels, with catastrophic economic impacts for large swaths of the country,” said Environmental Subcommittee Chairman Stewart.

Committee Democrats contended that investment in scientific research at EPA is necessary to implement effective ozone standards that preserve the public health. “I am cognizant of the argument that local conditions in the Intermountain West may require some new forms of flexibility by EPA in enforcing ozone standards, and I encourage EPA to work with the states to develop such flexibility,” said Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).  “Despite that call for flexibility, the science on ozone and health is sound.  The need for more science on background levels of ozone must not deter or prevent the EPA from setting an ozone standard that is fully protective of human health.”

Bonamici added, “This country has proven time and time again that a cleaner environment improves worker productivity, increases agricultural yield, reduces mortality and illness, and achieves other economic and public health benefits that outweigh the costs of compliance.” 

View the full hearing here:


View the Smith/Stewart letter, here:



On June 5, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Research and Technology held a joint subcommittee hearing examining federal research into damage from tornadoes in the United States and legislation to reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, which coordinates windstorm mitigation activities between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Every year the federal government funds not only disaster relief but also emergency supplemental appropriations when states are hit particularly hard by unexpected disasters.  I believe that we need to be more responsible about planning how to deal with natural disasters and minimize the need for disaster supplemental funding,” asserted Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN). He called for increased coordination at the federal level that also reduces agency duplication of responsibilities.

Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) sought to highlight the important role social science research plays in disaster mitigation. “In order for these efforts to be effective they cannot leave out the most critical component – people.  Understanding how people – such as state and local officials, business owners, and individuals – make decisions and respond to storm warnings is essential to designing effective strategies to prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster.”

The hearing also examined H.R. 1786, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2013, which would reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act with $21.4 million a year for the next three years. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), who also sits on the science committee. Committee Democrats asserted that the bill would cut the authorization for the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP) by 14 percent. “We don’t have any reason to believe the agencies need any less money to carry out the responsibilities we assigned them the last time we reauthorized this program,” asserted Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-FL). “And when we consider the devastating losses that have plagued the United States recently, this course of action seems irresponsible.” 

Instead they urged support for H.R. 2132, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Wilson. The bill would reauthorize both NWIRP and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Their bill authorizes $30 million for windstorm research funding per year. Similar legislation sponsored by former science committee member David Wu (D-OR) passed the House three years ago in the 111th Congress by a wide 335-50 margin, but was not taken up by the Senate.

All witnesses present affirmed that windstorm researchers have been underfunded in recent years. Debra Ballen, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, asserted that federal funding for testing how well buildings stand up to wind hazards has been underfunded for decades. Ballen recommended that reauthorization legislation include increases to ensure NWIRP can finish what they start as well as adequately fund new projects that are indentified in the early years of the reauthorization.

David Prevatt, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida, contrasted the limited funding for windstorm research to the multiple billions of dollars spent after tornadoes have struck places such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Moore, Oklahoma. He stated wind engineers have received less than $1 million a year in federal research funding over the past ten years, contrasting it with $70 million the government has spent on earthquake research since 2002.

He also noted there has been “attrition” in wind engineering and structural engineering faculty who study how to make houses sturdier due to the lack of adequate and sustained funding. This was seconded by Ernst Kiesling, a research faculty member of the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University, who noted that young wind engineers will be more likely to pursue careers in other fields that have more readily available funding.

View the full hearing here:



On June 5, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published its plans for removing federal protections for gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposal would remove remaining federal protections for grey wolves in the lower 48 states, save for the Mexican wolf subspecies inhabiting parts of New Mexico and Arizona, whose status would be upgraded to “endangered.” A minimum of 75 Mexican wolves have been reported in the region as of 2012. The delisting places monitoring of the wolves primarily in the hands of state wildlife agencies.

Prior to the rule, gray wolf populations in certain parts of the country had already been delisted. In 2002, the Northern Rockies area gray wolves exceeded minimum recovery goals of 300 for a third straight year and were delisted. A year prior, the Great Lakes population of wolves was delisted. FWS estimates that there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the continental United States, 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes and 1,674 in the Northern Rockies. These populations exceed targets by as much as 300 percent, according to the agency.

Conservation groups have expressed disappointment, stating that the rule does not ensure that wolves fully recover to inhabit their historic range. Defenders of Wildlife released the following press statement by their Southwest Program Director Eva Sargent: “With only about 75 wild Mexican gray wolves in the entire world, it’s good to see that protections will continue in the Southwest. However, proposing to prematurely strip federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves throughout the rest of the country is bad news for wolves nationwide and could make it unlikely that any wolves will be able to naturally reestablish a presence in the Southern Rockies, a region with excellent suitable habitat where wolves were once found.”

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) released the following statement: “The Service’s decision today to delist gray wolves only makes sense, and is long overdue.  This untangles the ridiculous situation in Washington, Oregon, and Utah, where wolves had been listed one side of a highway, and not on the other.  Private landowners, local governments and states should not be subjected to federal wolf listings when wolf populations are thriving, up as much as 300 percent in some areas, and will be managed much more effectively at the state level.”

A final determination on the proposal is expected for 2014. Public comments on the rule will be received through Sept. 11, 2013. For additional information on how to comment, click here:


For additional information, click here:



On June 11, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it is proposing adding captive chimpanzees for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The rule was prompted in part by a 2010 legal petition from a coalition of conservation associations, including the Jane Goodall Institute, to list both wild and captive chimpanzees as endangered. Currently, while wild chimpanzees are listed as ‘endangered,’ captive ones are listed as ‘threatened.’ The proposed rule finds that threats to wild chimpanzees have substantially increased since they were first listed in 1990. These threats include rising deforestation, poaching, capture for the pet trade and disease outbreaks.

The listing for captive chimps could have repercussions for animal research. An institution seeking to perform surgery or draw blood from the animals would first require a permit from the FWS. According to the agency, roughly half of the 2,000 chimps in the US are used for medical research purposes. The permit would require that researchers demonstrate that their work will benefit the overall conservation of wild chimpanzees. The change is listing would also have consequences for their use in the pet trade and the entertainment industry.

Comments on the proposal must be received by August 12, 2013. Additional information on the rule is available here:



Considered by House Committee

On June 13, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 553, to designate the exclusive economic zone of the United States as the “Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States” – Introduced by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the bill would rename the exclusive economic zone, which includes certain coastal waters extending three to 200 miles offshore, after former President Ronald Reagan. 

H.R. 1308, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act – Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow the Commerce secretary to issue one-year permits to kill sea lions, which prey on salmon along a portion of the Columbia River. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contends there is no scientific evidence that sea lions are putting the salmon at a survival risk and that the legislation would relax certain Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements.

H.R. 1399, the Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would reauthorize the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act to authorize the acquisition of hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services and improve mitigation of coastal change in the Arctic.

H.R. 1425, the Marine Debris Emergency Act – Introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would accelerate the 11-month review process used to give local communities federal funding for debris removal. The bill would require NOAA to approve or deny a grant application within 60 days of receiving it. NOAA contends that the 60-day timeline would hinder the environmental compliance reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act that are necessary for successful grant proposals. The bill’s 22 bipartisan cosponsors include several members from West Coast states, including Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), and David Reichert (R-WA).

H.R. 1491, the Tsunami Debris Cleanup Reimbursement Act – Introduced by Rep. Bonamici, the bill would authorize NOAA to use $5 million donated by the Japanese government for tsunami debris cleanup. 

H.R. 2219, to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would reauthorize the National Integrated Ocean Observing System.

Passed House

H.R. 126, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Currituck County, and the state of North Carolina to add wild horses to the list of species managed at the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed June 3 by voice vote.

H.R. 885, the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), the bill would expand the boundary of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to include 137 acres of additional land. The bill passed June 3 by voice vote.

H.R. 1206, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act – Introduced by Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA) – the bill grants the Secretary of Interior permanent authority to issue electronic duck stamps, which are required to hunt waterfowl. The bill passed June 3 by a vote of 401-0.

H.R. 251, the South Utah Valley Electric Conveyance Act – Introduced by Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would transfer certain electrical distribution duties from the Department of Interior to a local utility. The bill passed June 11 by a vote of 404-0.

H.R. 723, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bill would designate a study to include specified segments of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut into the federally protected national wild and scenic rivers system. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.

H.R. 993, the Fruit Heights Land Conveyance Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would transfer 100 acres of forest land from the Department of Agriculture to the city of Fruit Heights, UT. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.

H.R. 1157, the Rattlesnake Mountain Public Access Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow public access to Rattlesnake Mountain in the state of Washington. The bill passed June 11 by a vote of 409-0.

H.R. 1158, the North Cascades National Park Service Complex Fish Stocking Act – Introduced by Chairman Hastings, the bill would authorize the stocking of fish in lakes in the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in the state of Washington. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.

Passed Senate

S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 – Introduced by Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the $950 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs through Fiscal Year 2018. Overall, the bill includes $23 billion in spending cuts, achieved through eliminating excess subsidies, reducing programs perceived as duplicative and consolidating other programs. Like the House version, the bill consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill would require conservation compliance in order to receive crop insurance subsidies for highly erodible land and wetlands.

The Senate passed the bill June 10, by a vote of 66-27, which included the support of Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) and 17 additional Republicans. In a sign of progress compared to last Congress, the House plans to take up its version of the farm bill to the floor for a vote before the end of June. House majority leadership is aiming to have a conference report with the Senate finalized before the month-long August recess. 


 SourcesAAAS, ClimateWire, Defenders of Wildlife, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Science Foundation, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service

ESA announces 2013 Fellows

ESA LogoMedia Advisory

For immediate release: 11 June 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn, Nadine@esa.org, 202.833.8773, ext. 205


The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce its 2013 fellows. The Society’s fellows program recognizes the many ways in which our members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and to management and policy.

ESA fellows and early career fellows are listed on the ESA Fellows page.

Fellows are members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA, including, but not restricted to those that advance or apply ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations and the broader society. They are elected for life.

Early career fellows are members typically within eight years of receiving their Ph.D. (or other terminal degree) who have begun making and show promise of continuing to make outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA. They are elected for five years.

ESA established its fellows program in 2012. 

Awards Committee Chair Alan Hastings says that the program’s goals are to honor its members and to support their competitiveness and advancement to leadership positions in the Society, at their institutions and in broader society.   

Kudos to all this year’s ESA Fellows!

2013 Fellows:

  • Carlo D’Antonio, University of California
  • Bill Fagan, University of Maryland
  • Lisa Graumlich, University of Washington
  • Jessica Gurevitch, Stony Brook University
  • Susan P. Harrison, University of California, Davis
  • Robert D. Holt, University of Florida
  • Nancy Johnson, Northern Arizona University
  • Pablo Marquet, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
  • Kevin McCann, University of Guelph
  • Bruce Menge, Oregon State University
  • Camille Parmesan, University of Texas, Austin
  • Eric R. Pianka, University of Texas, Austin
  • Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland
  • Julie Reynolds, Duke University
  • Osvaldo E. Sala, Arizona State University
  • Joshua Schimel, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Joy Zedler, University of Wisconsin, Madison


2013 Early Career Fellows:

  • Steven D. Allison, University of California, Irvine
  • Marissa L. Baskett, University of California, Davis
  • Meghan Duffy, University of Michigan
  • Pieter Johnson, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Duncan Menge, Columbia University
  • Julian D. Olden, University of Washington


The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org

The Ecology of Zoonotic Diseases

On April 23, 2013, the Ecological Society of America sponsored a congressional briefing on the ecology of zoonotic diseases. The briefing highlighted the various environmental factors that can contribute to the spread of several prominent animal to human diseases.Presentations were given by Robert Parmenter, Director of the USDA Valles Caldera National Reserve Scientific Services Division and Gregory Glass, Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Director of the Alabama Southern Research Institute’s Global Biological Threat Reduction Program.

Parmenter and Glass answer questionsDiseases discussed in Parmenter’s presentation included malaria, Lyme disease and hantavirus, a rodent transmitted disease, which has gained prominence in the New Mexico region where he resides. Parmenter explained that some diseases require vectors (usually arthropods like ticks or fleas) while others can be directly transmitted from a host (like the rodent-human spread of hantavirus). He also elaborated on the various ecological conditions that influence zoonotic diseases, such as precipitation and temperature.

Glass talked about the sources of environmental and health data. Multiple federal agencies make detection, monitoring and research of zoonotic diseases possible.  These include the National Aeronautics Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States Geological Survey, the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Defense, Agriculture and Homeland Security and the US Agency for International Development. Glass also highlighted ways in which ecologists can help predict future zoonotic disease outbreaks and how climate change is likely to affect the distribution of Lyme disease.

The briefing was hosted by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Click here for Robert Parmenter’s slide presentation.

Click here for Gregory Glass’ slide presentation.