ESA Policy News Feb. 3: Policymakers react to Flint water crisis, ESA selects 2016 GSPA winners, ESA Past president honored
Feb03

ESA Policy News Feb. 3: Policymakers react to Flint water crisis, ESA selects 2016 GSPA winners, ESA Past president honored

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  EPA: FLINT WATER CRISIS GETS ATTENTION FROM WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS On Jan. 16, the president signed an official state of emergency declaration for Flint Michigan in light of the city’s drinking water crisis. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the region of Genesee County, MI. In January, House Energy and Commerce Committee members sent a bipartisan letter to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting a briefing on the water crisis in Flint, MI. The letter was led by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Environment and Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NJ). On Feb. 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee became the first congressional committee to hold a hearing on the Flint water crisis. Click here to view the congressional hearing. Click here to view the White House statement on the emergency declaration. Click here to view the House letter.   PUBLIC HEALTH: ZIKA VIRUS DECLARED INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY On Feb. 1, leaders of the World Health Organization declared the spread of the Zika virus as a global health emergency and predicted as many as four million cases expected across Central and South America. Human migration, climate change, and urbanization are cited as factors that may contribute to the spread of these diseases. Rising global temperatures and longer periods of warm weather aide both mosquito breeding cycles and the expansion of their geographical range. Human communities provide multiple sources of standing water that serve as breeding grounds for the insects, which include flower pots and drainage ditches. Click here to view a White House fact sheet on the Zika virus.   NSF: NSB REPORT HIGHLIGHTS INTERNATIONAL TRENDS IN RESEARCH INVESTMENT On Jan. 19, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report. The report highlights United States lead throughout the world in its investment in research and development (R&D), but notes that China, South Korea, and India are rapidly increasing their investments. According to the report, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D. The United States accounts for 27 percent of global R&D. China leads the United States as the world’s number one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science. China graduates 49 percent of science bachelor’s degrees, compared to 33 percent of bachelor’s science degrees...

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ESA Policy News Jan. 13: Obama SOTU calls for cooperation, FWS rule prohibits salamander importation, USGS Director confirmed
Jan13

ESA Policy News Jan. 13: Obama SOTU calls for cooperation, FWS rule prohibits salamander importation, USGS Director confirmed

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA SOTU REFLECTS ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS, CALLS FOR COOPERATION For his final State of the Union address, President Obama sought a conciliatory and hopeful tone while requesting that Congress allay partisan tensions to reach consensus on advancing his remaining priorities. Regarding his accomplishments and priorities, the president defended his administration’s actions to address climate change and increase investments in renewable energy. “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it,” said Obama. In the final portion of his speech, the president lamented that he had failed to alleviate brinksmanship  between the two parties and called upon Congress and the American people to get engaged in improving discourse and the political process. Click here to read the president’s full State of the Union remarks. FWS: INTERIM RULE WOULD PROHIBIT IMPORTATION OF 201 SALAMANDER SPECIES The US Fish and Wildlife Service published an interim rule that would prohibit the importation and trade of 201 salamander species. The rule is a preemptive effort to prevent the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which has decimated salamander populations in Europe through the pet trade, from spreading to native salamander populations in the United States. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) wrote a letter to the Service in November 2014 requesting the importantion ban. ESA Rapid Response member and amphibian expert, Dr. Karen Lips’ (University of Maryland), research on host-pathogen ecology and Bsal was used to inform the scientific understanding of Bsal’s threat. The agency may grant permits for the importation and transportation of listed species for scientific, medical, educational or zoological purposes. The rule allows owners of listed animals to keep them as states allow but prohibits interstate transport for all animals listed as alive or dead under the rule. The interim rule would take effect on Jan. 28, 2016. Click here for additional information. Click here to read ESA’s letter to FWS. FWS: WEST INDIAN MANATEES RECLASSIFIED UNDER ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT On Jan. 7, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to downgrade its listing of the West Indian manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.” The agency cites “significant improvements in its population and habitat conditions and reductions in direct threats” since the manatees’ listing as the rationale for the reclassification. The Endangered Species...

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The importance of international collaboration in the advancement of global ecological issues
Dec17

The importance of international collaboration in the advancement of global ecological issues

Many of the ecological issues facing society require cooperation among the international community to effect substantive change. The successful negotiations in Paris that resulted in the first-ever international climate accord affirm the importance of fostering international collaboration to effectively address ecological issues on a global scale. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, immediate Past President David Inouye shares his insights as ESA president. His reflections include representing ESA for Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill, presiding during ESA’s 100th year, and his various collaborations and outreach efforts with other ecological societies of the world. On Dec. 2014, Inouye attended the British Ecological Society and French Ecological Society joint meeting. The event included a luncheon meeting between the presidents and representatives of the world’s ecological societies. Inouye reciprocated by hosting a meeting for leadership of 13 international of societies during ESA’s Centennial Meeting in Baltimore this past summer. “One of the things we did was to have each society talk about one particular success they’ve had and one particular problem issue that they face, and that gave the other society representatives an opportunity to contribute ideas about how they might solve that problem and how their societies might be able to benefit from that success that the other society had,” said Inouye. “So I made it a point during my year as a president to get to a number of ecological society meetings.” Inouye also attended the Ecological Society of Japan’s annual meeting, the European Ecological Federation meeting and an International Phenology Conference in Turkey. Aside from climate change, another ecological issue with worldwide consequences is the decline of pollinators. In the podcast, Inouye  discusses his work over the past two years as one of the United States representatives for an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment focusing on the status of pollinators around the world. Established in 2012, IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body open to all member countries of the United Nations. The assessment will “address the role of native and exotic pollinators, the status of and trends in pollinators and pollination networks and services, drivers of change, impacts on human well-being, food production of pollination declines and deficits and the effectiveness of responses to pollination declines and deficits.” The final pollinator report is expected to be due out in Feb. 2016, after it has been approved by all participating countries. In addition to climate change and pollinator preservation, food and natural resource scarcity, invasive threats, ocean health, and endangered species protection are among the many issues where partnering with other ecological societies and international entities will be pivotal towards...

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ESA Policy News Dec. 16: World leaders reach climate accord, Congress finalizes FY 2016 spending deal, NEON to undergo management restructuring
Dec16

ESA Policy News Dec. 16: World leaders reach climate accord, Congress finalizes FY 2016 spending deal, NEON to undergo management restructuring

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: WORLD LEADERS REACH FIRST EVER CLIMATE ACCORD On Dec. 12, over 190 countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to the first-ever international climate change agreement in Paris. The 31-page agreement sets a goal of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and  pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Assessments on the progress of countries’ pledges will be conducted every five years, beginning in 2018. All countries will update and revise existing climate targets every five years, starting in 2020 with a goal of each target reflecting progress over the prior one. As part of the agreement, developed countries will pledge to raise $100 billion to aid developing nations in tackling climate change. For the first time, the agreement requires all countries to report on national inventories of emissions by source, allowing the general public to understand better the level of pollution generated by countries around the world. The agreement is considered a win for President Obama, who had pledged that the United States would lead by example in mitigating the effects of climate change. Click here for a summary of the agreement. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS REACHES FUNDING AGREEMENT FOR REMAINDER OF FY 2016 On the evening of Dec. 15, congressional leaders released a bipartisan $1.149 trillion omnibus spending deal that funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The bill comes after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which made it possible for moderate increases in overall discretionary spending for the next two fiscal years. To prevent a shutdown, Congress passed a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 22. The House is expected to take up the measure on Dec. 18. with the Senate expected to vote on the bill shortly after. The legislation is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and the president has indicated he will sign the measure. Most of the major harmful environmental riders from House appropriations bills were not included from the final bill. For NSF, the bill includes $7.46 billion, a $119 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill does not include restrictions on the NSF directorates that fund the geosciences or social and behavioral sciences. The bill requires federal agency Inspector Generals to conduct random audits of grant funding to combat waste and fraud and establishes an early warning system on cost overruns and requires agencies to notify congressional committees when costs grow...

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GSPA recipients bridge the gap between science and policy
Dec08

GSPA recipients bridge the gap between science and policy

In some respects, this year has been a politically tumultuous one for scientists working in federal policy. The US House Science, Space and Technology Committee has pushed legislation that would radically alter how the National Science Foundation prioritizes its budget and made repeated requests for information related to how certain federal agencies utilize science in their decision-making processes. While it is true that for some policymakers, their critique of scientific findings or priorities are based in fundamental differences of ideology, there are many others who are simply unaware of the degree of rigor involved in the scientific peer review process for science publications or the high level of transparency and competitiveness that constitutes the National Science Foundation’s merit review process for grant proposals. Consequently, it is critically important to maintain an open dialogue of communication between those who make science policy and those who practice the science. This is necessary to advance understanding of basic scientific research and seek consensus on how this research can be used to improve and improve our way of life. The Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) is one such tool the Ecological Society of America (ESA) uses to engage scientists in policy and help lawmakers understand the ecological research being conducted in their congressional districts and how it helps the communities they represent. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2015 GSPA recipient Emlyn Resetarits (University of Texas-Austin) reflects on her experience. For Resetarits, meeting with congressional offices highlighted the “isolated scientific community” she operates in, given that certain ecological terms and species she referred weren’t immediately familiar to some of the legislative staff during their discussion. She hopes that more Members of Congress will hire scientists as policy aides, but noted it’s beneficial to continue a dialogue with not just offices that are less familiar with science, but also those that may be critical of certain scientific findings or processes. “I think we’re strengthened when we really are able to talk to people who disagree with us, take their doubts and incorporate it into our research or how we explain ourselves,” said Resetarits. “I think it strengthens how we do science when we talk to people who maybe disagree with us.” Resetarits encourages scientists looking to get involved with policy to volunteer with a local agency whose work they found valuable— noting that public speaking skill is vital for communicating scientific research to wide audiences. “Just being able to public[ly] speak to a general audience about what you do is really important and if you can do that, that will really give you a leg up on trying...

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