ESA Policy News: May 3

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


A letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Acting-Director Cora Marrett from House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) received a sharp rebuttal from Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

In his letter, Chairman Smith expressed concern with how NSF prioritizes scientific research. “Based on my review of NSF-funded studies, I have concerns regarding some grants approved by the foundation and how closely they adhere to NSF’s ‘intellectual merit’ guideline,” he wrote.  “To better understand how NSF makes decisions to approve and fund grants, it would be helpful to obtain detailed information on specific research projects awarded NSF grants.” He then cited several social science studies, including research projects entitled “Picturing Animals in National Geographic,” “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions,” and “Regulating Accountability and Transparency in China’s Dairy Industry” as “studies of interest” to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Ranking Member Johnson’s response letter addressed to Chairman Smith came the following day. “Like you I recognize that NSF grants have a responsibility back to the taxpayers,” she noted. “But I also believe that: 1) the progress of science itself – across all fields, including the social and behavioral sciences – is in the interest of the taxpayer; and 2) that NSF’s Broader Impact criterion is the right way to hold the individual grantee accountable.”

Her letter included a sharp criticism of the chairman’s move as entirely unprecedented in modern history. “In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF. In the more than two decades of committee leadership that I have worked with – Chairmen Brown, Walker, Sensenbrenner, Boehlert, Gordon, and Hall – I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.”

To view Chairman Smith’s letter, click here. To view Ranking Member Johnson’s rebuttal letter, click here. To view President Obama’s recent remarks before the National Academy of Sciences, click here.


On April 24, the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee convened for a hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget request for FY 2014.

“I’m disappointment with the overall budget level. This is the fourth year in a row that the agency’s budget request has contracted,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI). Chairman Reed cited clean and drinking water state revolving funds, beach cleanup, brownfields clean up, and environmental education programs as troubling proposed cuts that would endanger public health and stifle economic and infrastructure productivity. While acknowledging that more funding is needed for water infrastructure overall, Perciasepe noted that past investment, including funding through the Recovery Act, has helped sustain funds. EPA will continue to work with states and local agencies to make better use of the funds, given current fiscal concerns, said Perciasepe.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed concern with certain EPA rulemakings and asserted that she hears more complaints from Alaskans about the agency than about any other federal agency. She asked about the status of Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed assessment, which seeks to identify the impacts of large scale mining on the Bay. Murkowski specifically inquired when the agency would be able to provide the committee with the overall cost of the assessment. Her concerns about getting the overall assessment completed in a timely fashion were echoed by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK). Perciasepe said that a cost assessment should be available sometime in May.

View the full hearing here. Additional information on the Bristol Bay assessment is available here.


On April 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Policy Relevant Climate Issues in Context.” The hearing was the first of the subcommittee to focus on climate science for the 113th Congress.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) re-emphasized the contention among some congressional Republicans that there is debate as to the degree to which the planet is warming and the factors at play. “The number and complexity of factors influencing climate—from land and oceans to the sun and clouds—make precise long-term temperature predictions an extremely difficult challenge.  Contrary to the predictions of almost all modeling, over the past 16 years there has been a complete absence of global warming,” said Stewart. “When we encounter those who claim to know precisely what our future climate will look like, and then attack any who may disagree with them, we have stepped out of the arena of science and into the arena of politics and ideology.”

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) illustrated various examples, peppered with a local perspective, of how climate change is affecting the economy. She noted the role of wine grapes in Oregon’s economy and how even minor temperature changes can adversely impact production of pinot noir wine grapes. She also pointed to the negative impacts of increased ocean acidification, caused by climate change, on the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry.

“As a nation, we are becoming too familiar with the consequences of waiting until the eleventh hour to develop solutions to the problems we face,” stated Bonamici. “Let’s not make that mistake with something as serious as climate change. And even though we may have differences of opinion about what is causing climate change, but we can still discuss the economic gains we can make by investing in a clean energy economy, modernizing our infrastructure, and seeking energy independence.”

View the full hearing, here.


On May 2, President Obama announced Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker as his pick to lead the US Department of Commerce. Pritzker, a longtime fundraiser for Obama, is also the daughter of the founder of the Hyatt Hotel chain. If confirmed, Pritzker would be the wealthiest secretary in Obama’s cabinet, with a net worth of $1.85 billion.

Pritzker currently serves as Chief Executive of PSP Capital Partners and its affiliate, Pritzker Realty Group. She has previously served as a member of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and also worked on the administration’s Skills for America’s Future initiative, an effort to improve industry partnerships with community colleges to develop job skills for students. Pritzker attended Harvard University and received law and business degrees from Stanford.

As Commerce Secretary, Pritzker would oversee the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, one of the federal government’s key science agencies and the single largest federal bureau under the department’s jurisdiction. Several key positions have remained vacant at NOAA in the time between the final year of the administration’s first term and the onset of his second-term. Foremost among them is the position of NOAA administrator, left vacant by the departure of Jane Lubchenco, a former president of the Ecological Society of America.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently began efforts to remove the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal protections would be removed for most wolves across the continental United States. Protection would remain in place, however, for a subspecies of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. The removal would be the culmination of a series of regional and state efforts that have been enacted in recent years. Members of Congress from western states that represent hunters and ranchers have also frequently pushed delisting efforts over recent years.

Environmental groups have expressed dismay regarding FWS’s intention. In a press statement, Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark accused the Obama administration of “giving up on gray wolf recovery before the job is done.” Defenders of Wildlife contends the move is premature given that recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest are just beginning and the fact that there are no wolves in the states of Colorado and Utah. “Gray wolves once ranged in a continuous population from Canada all the way down to Mexico, and we shouldn’t give up on this vision until they are restored,” contended Clark.

To view the Defenders of Wildlife press release, click here. For additional information on FWS gray wolf recovery and monitoring efforts, click here.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) “Diverse People for a Diverse Science” project with a $183,158 grant.

The ESA initiative seeks to increase diversity participation in the field of ecology. In addition to funding existing program components such as research fellowships, the grant will also support an independent evaluation of ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program.

The professional evaluation will assess SEEDS program activities between 2002-2012, documenting outcomes, effectiveness of program components and identifying opportunities to strengthen the program. The evaluation will determine to what degree program participants’ knowledge of ecology as increased, how it has buttressed career opportunities and influenced ESA members who have served as mentors during its existence.

Formative Evaluation Research Associates (FERA) is conducting the SEEDS program evaluation. FERA is a woman-owned firm with experience evaluating NSF-supported and other science education programs focused on engaging underrepresented groups.


On May 3, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its five year research and development (R&D) plan.

The plan provides a roadmap for research implementation at NOAA from 2013-2017 in support of goals related to monitoring the status of climate, weather, oceans and coastal areas. The plan will help NOAA and partnering organizations understand how to adapt and respond to change, provide a common understanding between NOAA and its various stakeholders of the purpose of NOAA R&D as well as develop a framework for making mission-oriented decisions and setting targets on how to measure progress and the degree of stakeholder engagement.

For additional information on the plan, click here. To provide comments go here.


On April 24, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was considering adding new amphibians in the Sierra Nevada region for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Yosemite toad and the mountain yellow-legged frog would be listed as “threatened” under the proposed rule. The distinct population segment of the Sierra Nevada yellow frog would be included in this listing. FWS cites these three species as being threatened by “habitat degradation, predation, climate change, and inadequate regulatory protection.” The proposal would also designate a combined two million acres of critical habitat for the animals, largely across California and 16 counties in the Sierra Nevada.

Public comments will be accepted through June 24, 2013. Comments can be submitted via email at using docket number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 for the listing and docket number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074 for the critical habitat rule.  Comments can also be mailed to the following address:

Public Comments Processing
Attn:  FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 or FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203

For additional information, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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