Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
BUDGET: REPORT FINDS SPENDING CUTS POSE THREATS TO PUBLIC SAFETY, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON PUBLIC LANDS
A recent report from several conservation organizations concludes that the automatic spending cuts, set to take place in January 2013 under the Budget Control Act, would adversely impact efforts to protect public health and safety in public parks, forests and natural recreational areas.
For National Parks, the study concludes that budget sequestration would force a loss of park rangers, jeopardizing public safety for park visitors and hindering the promptness of emergency response personnel. The cuts could also spur increases in vandalism and looting in public parks and impede efforts to monitor endangered species.
For the Forest Service, the cuts would decrease the agency’s ability to respond to wildfires. Inadequate campground maintenance would also lead to park trail closures, increasingly unkempt bathroom facilities, halted restoration projects and unprocessed recreational permits. All of this would adversely impact revenue brought in from tourism. The automatic cuts would also hinder the agency’s ability to manage invasive species.
The report was led by the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife. View the full report here.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: INTERIOR VACATES CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION FOR SEABIRD
Department of Interior officials have agreed to vacate nearly four million acres of critical habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet until 2018 as part of a settlement agreement with the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), a prominent timber industry advocate.
The designation would have included parts of California, Oregon and Washington states. The agreement must be approved by the US District Court for the District of Columbia before it is final. According to court documents, defendants agreed that vacating critical habitat would not significantly impair conservation efforts for the species. Conservation groups, however, differ with this opinion.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), marbled murrelets have been declining by roughly four percent per year since 2002. This decline is mainly attributed to continued habitat loss due to logging, particularly on state and private lands. On Oct. 24, CBD joined with several environmental groups in sending a letter to the Obama administration requesting that it withdraw from the agreement before it becomes final.
GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: SCIENCE EXEMPTION SOUGHT FOR TRAVEL BAN LEGISLATION
A legislative effort to curb participation of federal employees at national conferences has spurred an effort from several organizations to seek an exemption for scientific organizations.
In September, the US Association for Computing Machinery, Computing Research Association, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics sent a letter to policymakers expressing their concern over a number of bills moving through Congress (H.R. 2146, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and S. 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act), which include provisions intended to limit government employees’ ability to attend meetings and conferences. The travel provisions in the Senate bill were adopted through the amendment process, specifically by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
“Scientific and technical conferences already have review processes and regulations in place. These limitations are designed to help control spending on both the event and travel to the event, particularly when government funding is involved,” the letter notes. “We therefore request that you consider exempting recognized scientific, technical and educational meetings from the proposed travel expense limits in these pieces of legislation.”
In May, the Ecological Society of America joined 50 other scientific societies in sending a similar letter to Congress, noting that the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival included participation from 40 federal government agencies and offices. The letter, which also referenced the aforementioned legislation, contended that this level of collaboration might not be possible if the bills were enacted.
NUCLEAR WASTE: HOUSE DEMOCRATS REQUEST UPDATE ON URANIUM CLEAN UP EFFORTS
On Oct. 18, several House lawmakers, including Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), and Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), sent a letter to federal agencies requesting a new plan to continue clean up of uranium, a byproduct of mining, on Navajo Nation lands.
The current five-year plan is scheduled to conclude at the end of this year, despite the fact that hundreds of sites still need to be cleaned. “Although the last operating mines on the Navajo Nation closed in the mid-1980’s, mining activities on the Reservation left behind hundreds of abandoned uranium mines, inactive milling sites, former dump sites, contaminated groundwater, and structures that contain elevated levels of radiation. These sites pose environmental and public health risks to the Navajo community,” the members write. “We believe that a second five-year plan will be necessary to continue this enormous task.”
The October letter also requests an audit from the Government Accountability Office on these clean-up efforts. In August, Ranking Members Markey and Waxman also spearheaded a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for an update on an ongoing study dealing with the effects of pollution on the Navajo lands.
NOAA: NINE COASTAL COMMUNITY PROJECTS ISSUED GRANTS TO ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE
On Oct. 19, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of New Hampshire announced $4.9 million in grants for nine research projects geared towards helping coastal communities deal with various impacts of climate change.
The grants are made possible through NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) Science Collaborative through its partnership with the university. The NERRS Science Collaborative was established by NOAA’s Estuarine Reserves Division in cooperation with the University of New Hampshire in 2009 to inform costal community decision-making with science.
States receiving the project grants include Alabama, California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina. To view the specific recipients, view NOAA’s full press release here.
TECHNOLOGY: WILDLIFE WATCHING OR WATER MONITORING, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT
Federal agencies have unveiled new tools that can help monitor conditions in the natural world through smart phones.
Chesapeake Bay Wildlife Refuge App
Visitors to the Chesapeake Bay can use their iPhones to post photos of plants and animals they encounter on national wildlife refuges onto a global network for information about the species. The accumulated data will help scientists and refuge managers identify where and when individual species inhabit specific locations. The app was developed in partnership with the Chesapeake Conservancy, the National Geographic Society and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
How’s My Waterway App
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a smart phone app to help individuals find the condition of the waterways within their communities. The app employs GPS technology or a user’s zip code to pinpoint information on the condition of local water bodies such as lakes, rivers and streams. The information will include descriptions of each type of water pollutant, likely sources and potential health risks.