ESA Policy News April 21: climate future, Forest Legacy, ESA visits the Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.


The Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two new reports in late March and early April that reaffirm climate change is currently affecting natural ecosystems and human well-being around the world.

The March 31 report from “Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” stated that we are experiencing the consequences of climate change across all sectors: agriculture, human health, ocean and land ecosystems, and water supplies. The working group found that governments’ measures to combat climate change are not keeping pace with the consequences of climate change. At an IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, 100 governments unanimously approved the report.

In Berlin, Germany on April 13 a subsequent IPCC report from “Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change” warned greenhouse gas emissions that push warming above two degrees Celsius will lead to dangerous and costly climate change events. The report stated that worldwide emissions must decline between 40-70 percent below 2010 by the middle of the century to avoid such consequences. The report called for cutting green-house gas emissions from energy production, transportation, infrastructure and business to meet this goal.

The Working Group III report was the final contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, titled “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.” The Working Group I report, released in Sept. 2013, outlined the physical science basis of climate change. The larger Fifth Assessment Report will be completed by a synthesis report on track to be finalized in October.

For additional information on the Working Group II report, click here. For additional Information on the Working Group III report, click here.


On April 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing reviewing the US Department of Energy’s scientific and technology priorities as outlined in the president’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) took issue with DOE’s investments in renewable energy in comparison to its fossil fuel investments. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) funding would increase by 21.9 percent in the president’s FY 2015 budget. Meanwhile, the Fossil Energy Research and Development account would decrease by 15.4 percent with the brunt of those cuts coming from coal-related activities.

“The administration should not pick winners and give subsidies to favored companies that promote uncompetitive technologies,” said Chairman Smith.  “Instead, we should focus our resources on research and development that will produce technologies that will enable alternative energy sources to become economically competitive without the need for subsidies. Basic energy research is the stepping stone to our continued success.”

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz countered that the investment numbers for EERE constitute three separate energy priorities ($521 million for renewable energy, $705 million for sustainable transportation and $858 million for energy efficiency). Secretary Moniz asserted that the proposed EERE funding levels are comparable to the $475 million proposed for fossil energy and $863 for nuclear energy. Together, these funding levels in the president’s budget will constitute an all-of-the-above energy approach. Moniz subsequently noted that DOE made the initial investments in the research that fostered hydraulic fracturing.

View the full committee hearing here.


On April 9, a bipartisan group of 51 senators issued a letter to the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee expressing support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Forest Legacy program.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Susan Collins (R-ME) spearheaded the letter. The senators asserted that these programs support and protect wildlife habitats and provide the public with hunting and fishing recreational opportunities while also promoting job creation .The letter asserted that the programs also save taxpayer dollars through protecting land that provides valuable water resources, guards against incompatible development and reduces fire risk while contributing to state, local and private conservation investments.

“The entire suite of LWCF programs protect natural resource lands, outdoor recreation opportunities and working forests at the local, state and federal levels, ensuring that critical wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing access, state and local parks, Civil War battlefields, productive forests and other important lands are protected for current and future generations,” the senators stated in the letter. “We ask that you include a strong investment in LWCF and Forest Legacy that will support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans.”

Additional information on the LWCF program is available here. Additional information on the Forest Legacy program is available here. View the full Senate letter here.


On April 15, 26 members of the House and Senate from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to President Obama expressing support for the 1964 Columbia River Treaty.

The Columbia River Treaty aids in the coordination of hydropower development and flood control between the United States and Canada along the Columbia River basin. Beginning this year, either side can seek to terminate the treaty with 10 years notice. The US State Department is expected to start negotiations with the Canadian government on potential updates to the treaty as early as September of this year.

The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR). To view the full letter, click here.


On April 9, the US Department of Interior and the US Department of Agriculture jointly released a new holistic vision for wildfire management “To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, live with fire.”

The strategy seeks to restore and maintain landscapes by using tactics such as prescribed burns to increase forest resiliency. The strategy also seeks to build “fire-adapted communities” by reducing the amount of surrounding flammable materials such as fuel and vegetation that could cause or exacerbate a wildfire. Additionally, the strategy strives to highlight programs and activities that would prevent fire ignitions directly caused by humans. Effective and efficient response to wildfires is the last prong in the strategy.

View the full strategy here.


On April 17, President Obama announced that he was dedicating $15 million towards a new program that would help state and local governments invest in solar energy infrastructure.

The $15 million will be implemented through the administration’s new Solar Market Pathways program. It will fund the development of initiatives to help communities across the US expand installation of solar panels. The program will also provide technical assistance and cost reductions for solar installations in federally-assisted housing.

The program is a part of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity. For additional information, click here.


2014 GSPA winners from left to right: Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland), Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Johanna Varner (University of Utah) and Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University).

2014 Graduate Student Policy Award winners from left to right: Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland), Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Johanna Varner (University of Utah) and Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University).

On April 10, 2014, biologists from across the US fanned out across Capitol Hill, visiting over 60 congressional offices to talk about how federal investment in science research yields benefits to society.

Organized each year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition event helps raise awareness among policymakers about how federal research benefits the communities they represent.

This year’s participants included 2014 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners, Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah).

Participants in the BESC Hill visits came prepared with personal stories about how federal funding aids their research, how their work helps them advance their professional development and benefits the respective states where they conduct their research. While firm commitments to support science funding varied from office-to-office, the graduate students and other participants mostly received collegial receptions from Congressional staff and elected officials, using local commonalities to relate with the congressional staff and lawmakers with whom they met.

ESA GSPA recipient Johanna Varner outside the office of Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT)

ESA GSPA recipient Johanna Varner outside the office of Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). Any constituent can request a meeting with their representative’s office and make an “ask” for policy support.

The visits coincided with bicameral letters from the House and Senate in support of $7.5 billion in funding for the National Science Foundation, which was central to the overall message advocated by the BESC participants. The House letter, circulated by Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV), garnered 132 signatures. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) authored a similar letter that secured 20 additional signatories.

The day before the Hill visits, the students met informally with several federal agency scientists who gave their perspective as scientists working in policy. Federal entities represented at the briefing included the United States Geological Survey, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Park Service and the US Forest Service. The participants were also briefed on the federal budget process and protocols regarding meeting with congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

Photos from the visits are available here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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