ESA Policy News: July 12

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


On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key science agencies for the coming fiscal year.

In total, the CJS bill includes $47.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.8 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level and $350 million below FY 2013 when accounting for implementation of sequestration. House Republicans have been drafting legislation under the assumption that sequestration will continue through Fiscal Year 2014. Coupled with the fact that they are simultaneously seeking to boost Department of Defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending programs are set to undergo even further spending declines if their bills are enacted.

For the first time in years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a significant reduction in funding under the bill compare to the enacted level in the previous fiscal year. NSF would receive $7 billion in FY 2014, $259 million below the enacted level in 2013 pre-sequestration and $631 million below the president’s budget request.  Other key science agencies under the jurisdiction of the bill include:

• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.9 billion, $89 million below the FY 2013 enacted level.

• National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $16.6 billion, $928 million below the FY 2013 enacted level.

For additional information on the bill, click here.


On July 11, the US Department of Energy released a report entitled US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.” The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s climate speech last month and highlights detrimental effects climate change is having on US energy production.

Among its findings, the report notes coastal energy infrastructure is particularly susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise and that drought could negatively affect hydraulic fracturing efforts. The report cites that heat waves have led to shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The report also points to threats to oil and gas production in the Arctic from infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost. It also notes that violent storms in recent years have on several occasions led to massive power losses across several states.

Among suggested methods of adapting to climate change, the report calls for “the deployment of energy technologies that are more climate-resilient, assessment of vulnerabilities in the energy sector, adaptation planning efforts, and policies that can facilitate these efforts.” View the full report here.


On July 10, the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior announced a plan to help farmers and ranchers conserve sensitive land around military installations.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership seeks to address agricultural development that is encroaching on military installations with the intended goals of preserving both military training missions and protecting wildlife habitat. Federal agencies intend to invest $12.6 million towards restoration and protection of over 2,600 acres of prairie habitat.

The partnership will begin in the South Puget Sound region of Washington state. Additional sites will be reviewed as the program moves forward. For additional information, click here.


On June 28, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule certifying that two invasive grasses, Arundo donax and napier grass, qualify as a cellulosic renewable fuel and consequently, can be used in biofuel production under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

The final rule completes analysis of the plants’  potential contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as mandated under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140). According to EPA, the level of GHG generated through cultivation of the plants are 60 percent less than the level from gasoline and diesel.  Biofuels producers have praised Arundo donax plant due to its drought-resistance and ability to grow in poor soil. However, these qualities have also made it a formidable invasive plant.

Over the past year, the Ecological Society of America joined with a number of other organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in several meetings and written correspondence to federal regulatory officials requesting that EPA not move forward with the rulemaking approving the use of the invasive feedstocks. The final rule has been revised to require risk-management plans for producers, but these safeguards contain oversight loopholes that could fail to prevent an invasion.

View the Environmental Protection Agency rule here. View the National Wildlife Federation release here. View the Oct. 2012 arundo donax letter here.


The US Forest Service (FS) is set to approve a controversial mining project roughly 30 miles south of Tuscon, Arizona near the Santa Rita Mountains.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement released July 1 indicates that the agency concludes that Augusta Resource Corporation’s proposed Rosemont Copper Mine will not jeopardize the 10 federally listed threatened or endangered species that inhabit the region. The draft statement does acknowledge, however, that mining activities would damage or alter historic areas, including traditional cultural properties, sacred sites, traditional use areas, archaeological sites, historical structures, districts, and landscapes,” and includes environmental mitigation activities to minimize detrimental impacts on air quality, water resources, habitats and cultural sites in the region.

Nonetheless, national and local conservation groups have been in strong opposition to the mine’s construction since it was first proposed. Among their concerns is the threat the mine poses to the chances of jaguars establishing in southern Arizona. Chief opponents of the copper mine include the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Tucson-based non-profit group, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing a separate critical habitat designation for the jaguar. Areas proposed include the Santa Rita Mountains where the mining is to take place. Hence, final approval of the FWS proposal would stand to rule out the FS proposal since the habitat in the area would become federally protected from human harm or alteration, according to CBD. Comments on the FWS proposal are due August, 9.

For additional information on the FS proposal for the Rosemont Copper Mine, click here. For information on the FWS critical habitat designation, including the public comment opportunity, click here. The CBD press release on the proposed critical habitat designation is available here:


On July 9, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a six month extension on whether to provide federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken.

FWS has proposed a “threatened” listing for the species due to habitat loss and fragmentation, primarily from agricultural and energy development among other human-induced threats. The agency seeks specific scientific information including “historical and current status and distribution of the lesser prairie-chicken, its biology and ecology, specific threats (or lack thereof) and regulations that may be addressing those threats and ongoing conservation measures for the species and its habitat.”

Written comments must be received by close of business on August 8, 2013. A final determination is expected by FWS no later than March 30, 2014. For additional information, click here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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