Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
INTERIOR: GRAND CANYON HARDROCK MINING PROHIBITION ENACTED
On Jan. 9, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced its decision to ban new hardrock mining claims on more than one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park for the next 20 years. The order was signed by Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar.
The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate – where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona.
The process for approving withdrawal involved an extensive public comment period in which a wide array of stakeholders, including the Ecological Society of America, participated. To view the ESA letter, click here. For more information on the Interior’s withdrawal, click here.
INTERIOR: NEW ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS SCIENCE PANEL CREATED
On Jan. 6, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced the creation of the Strategic Sciences Group, a team intended to improve federal responsiveness to environmental disasters.
The creation of the group is authorized under a recent order signed by DOI Secretary Ken Salazar. Interior officials contend the need to improve communication and coordination between federal scientists representing DOI, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, among others, led to the creation of the new group.
The Strategic Sciences Group will be co-led by Gary Machlis, Science Adviser for the National Park Service Director and David Applegate, United States Geological Survey Associate Director for Natural Hazards. The group was given three months to establish an operational plan describing its organization and high-priority crisis scenarios. Rhea Suh, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, is in charge of implementing the order. More information on the DOI order can be found here.
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: WHITE HOUSE RELEASES DRAFT OCEAN PLAN
On Jan. 12, the White House National Ocean Council released a draft of its National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. The plan outlines a series of actions the federal government will take to improve environmental stewardship of the nation’s oceans, Great Lakes and coastal areas.
The report instructs federal agencies to post all non-confidential data on ocean research to a new centralized ocean data website over the next three years. It also directs the federal government to streamline ocean and coastal permitting processes and call upon regional councils to develop comprehensive ocean plans by 2019. “This draft Implementation Plan is guided by four themes: (1) adopt ecosystem-based management; (2) obtain, use, and share the best science and data; (3) promote efficiency and collaboration; and (4) strengthen regional efforts,” the report states.
The report is the first among a series of objectives outlined in the administration’s National Ocean’s Policy. Comments on the new plan must be received by Feb. 27, 2012. For additional information on the draft plan or to comment, click here. To view the National Ocean Council’s data website, click here.
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS CONSIDERED FOR MARTEN
On Jan. 12, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it is considering the Humboldt marten (Martes Americana humboldtensis) for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), had petitioned the FWS to list the Humboldt marten as endangered or threatened in coastal northern California and in coastal central and southern Oregon. “The Humboldt marten was once common, but now there are fewer than 50-100 surviving members of this subspecies in California and an unknown but small number in Oregon,” CBD’s petition states.
The finding is published in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period that ends March 12, 2012. Comments on the finding can be submitted online at federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Enter Keyword or ID box, enter Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2011-0105, then click on the search button. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Send a Comment or Submission.”
Comments can also be submitted via snail mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2011-0105; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
The original Center for Biological Diversity petition can be found here.
AIR POLLUTION: EPA UNVEILS ONLINE GHG REPORTING PROGRAM
On Jan. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a new online database that will allow the public to track greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources.
The EPA’s new Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reporting Program includes information on emissions released in 2010 from more than 6,700 facilities. The online database includes only sources that emit at least 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide CO2 annually and allows the public to search for emissions by state, sector and source.
The GHG Reporting Program was mandated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (P.L. 110-161). Additional information on EPA’s GHG Reporting program can be found here.
WETLANDS: NEW COASTAL RESTORATION GRANTS ANNOUNCED
On Jan. 3, the Department of Interior announced $20.5 million in grants to support 24 projects in 13 states to conserve and restore coastal wetlands and animal habitats. The grants, awarded under the 2012 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, will be matched by nearly $21 million in partner contributions from state and local governments, private landowners and conservation groups.
The grants will be used to acquire, restore or enhance coastal wetlands and adjacent areas to provide long-term conservation benefits to fish, wildlife and their habitats. States receiving funds include Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
The grants are part of the Obama administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative. A complete list of projects funded by the 2012 grant program can be found here.
POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA WEIGHS IN ON OSTP REVIEW OF PUBLIC ACCESS POLICIES
In response to two Requests for Information from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Ecological Society of America publicly commented on two issues of significant interest to the broad scientific community: public access to federally funded research published in scholarly journals and public access to digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.
In its letter on public access to digital data ESA said: “As a publisher of peer-reviewed ecological journals for over 90 years, ESA policies and capabilities support data sharing and archiving and we welcome the development of agency policies and standards that will preserve and enhance access to digital data resulting from federal support.” ESA provides a means for data publication and citation through Ecological Archives and has organized a series of workshops to explore data sharing policies among scientific societies. The Society suggested some key ideas for consideration in its letter, including the need for discipline-specific, consistent standards across agencies and steps to ensure appropriate attribution and credit to authors, publications and funding agencies.
ESA’s letter on access to scholarly publishing requested that publishers retain their ability to experiment with models to increase accessibility to their journals’ content. “ESA respectfully requests that the Administration allow the scientific publishing community to continue to explore workable solutions that meet the dual goals of the scientific enterprise as well as provide resources to interested members of the public.”
The Society’s letter sparked a lively online discussion among both members and non-members. The most vocal responses came from those who believe that all federally funded research, including that published in journals, should be available free of charge to all readers/users/interested consumers. Some promoted the model followed by PLoS (Public Library of Science), in which open access is supported by fees that authors pay ($1350 – $2900) in order to publish. But others expressed concern that if all journals follow an author pays model, it could lead to diminished quality in the research published as well as create a price barrier to publication for some ecologists who generally do not enjoy as high a level of funding as scientists in biomedical fields, such as molecular biology.
Others who weighed in on the discussion pointed out that ESA journal articles are among the least expensive of the subscription world and that some librarians refer to ESA as a model of responsible cost practices among subscription journals. ESA offers its journals to smaller institutions at lower rates than to larger ones and has been successful with its first attempt at an alternative to subscriptions, with its open access journal Ecosphere, which is supported by author fees ($1250 for members). The Society also participates in OARE (Online Access to Research in the Environment), which distributes all ESA journals free of cost to developing countries.
Like other scientific societies, ESA convenes an annual meeting and publishes highly regarded peer reviewed journals in its field. In addition, the Society engages in public policy, media outreach, education and diversity issues and works on projects that link the ecological research and management communities and help integrate ecological science into decision-making. All of these efforts are geared to broadly share ecological science, encourage dialogue about important environmental and science issues, and give a voice to the ecological community.
In stark contrast to large publishing companies, for non-profit scientific societies such as ESA, the American Mathematical Society, the American Astronomical Society, and many others, publishing journals is a crucial part of their existence. As one commentator worried: “…we need to be very careful about doing away with our scholarly organizations. Whether we own up to it or not, that is what is being proposed.”