ESA Policy News: July 12
Jul12

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. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS SCIENCE INVESTMENT 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. DOE: REPORT LINKS CLIMATE CHANGE TO ENERGY SECTOR RISKS 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...

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Lisa Schulte Moore’s agro-ecology pitch takes the ESA2013 Science Cafe Prize
Jul01

Lisa Schulte Moore’s agro-ecology pitch takes the ESA2013 Science Cafe Prize

Want to stem biodiversity loss, enhance fresh water supplies, curtail climate change AND improve people’s lives? Then change modern agriculture.

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Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California
May06

Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California

Perceived food safety risk from wildlife drives expensive and unnecessary habitat destruction around farm fields By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Meticulous attention to food safety is a good thing. As consumers, we like to hear that produce growers and distributers go above and beyond food safety mandates to ensure that healthy fresh fruits and vegetables do not carry bacteria or viruses that can make us sick. But in California’s Salinas Valley, some more vigorous interventions are cutting into the last corners of wildlife habitat and potentially threatening water quality, without evidence of food safety benefits. These policies create tensions between wildlife preservation and food safety where none need exist, say scientists for The Nature Conservancy, writing in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The study will be published online ahead of print on Monday, May 6th, 2013. “Farming practices for food safety that target wildlife are damaging valuable ecological systems despite low risk from these animals,” said lead author Sasha Gennet. Check the back of your bag of spinach or prepackaged salad greens, and you’ll probably find that they came from the Salinas Valley. Salad is big business in California. In the aftermath of a deadly 2006 Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 outbreak traced to California spinach, growers and distributers of leafy greens came together to create the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) on best practices for the industry, enforced by third-party auditors and inspectors. The LGMA established standards for farm work hygiene, produce processing and transport, and proximity to livestock. About 99 percent of California leafy greens now come from participating farms. But produce farmers in the Salinas Valley report pressure from some powerful buyers to take additional precautions not mandated by government or industry standards. These buyers insist that swathes of bare ground wider than a football field is long separate the leafy greens from rivers, wetlands and other wildlife habitat. Other precautions include treating irrigation water with chemicals toxic to fish and amphibians, and setting poisoned bait for rodents. “The California Leafy Green Hander agreement is transparent, flexible and science based,” said Gennet. “Going above and beyond it just creates costs for farmers and doesn’t improve safety.” It also creates costs for wildlife. Although scant evidence exists of risk of food-borne disease spread by wildlife, the risk of rejection of produce by major buyers is too much for most growers to bear, say Gennet and her co-authors. They measured changes in wetlands and riverside habitat in the Salinas Valley between 2005 and 2009, finding 13.3 percent converted to bare ground, crops or otherwise diminished. Widespread introduction of fencing...

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ESA Policy News: March 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES MEASURE FUNDING GOVERNMENT THROUGH FY 2013 This week, Congress passed H.R. 933, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The bill in effect prevents a government shutdown when the current CR runs out at the end of the month while giving some federal agencies slightly more latitude in how they allocate funding. The measure does not nullify the sequestration of automatic spending cuts (5.3 percent to non-defense programs, 7.9 percent to defense programs) implemented March 1 under the Budget Control Act. President Obama is expected to sign the measure. The $984 billion bill is altered from the House version in that it adds funding language for the agriculture, homeland security and commerce justice and science appropriations bills. The House version had only incorporated appropriations bills that fund the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs agencies. Incorporating the language of actual bills gives federal agencies greater direction and specificity in how to distribute funding than what is provided by a simple CR. While overall funding in the bill was not increased, funding levels for several programs within agencies were reshuffled to sustain critical initiatives. For the National Science Foundation in FY 2013, the Senate-passed bill includes a $221 million increase over FY 2012 for a total of $7.25 billion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is funded at $17.5 billion in FY 2013, less than the $17.8 billion it received in FY 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $5 billion for FY 2013, above the $4.9 billion funded in FY 2012. For agriculture research programs, the FY 2013 bill provides $1.074 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (down from $1.09 billion in FY 2012) and $290 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (up from $264 million in FY 2014). Among the amendments adopted was one from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. The Senate also adopted by unanimous consent an amendment from Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) to shield farmers who store fuel on their property from an Environmental Protection Agency oil spill prevention rule. Another amendment from Coburn to shift funding within the National Parks Service to ensure national parks are open to the public and allow White House tours to resume failed 44-54. An additional Coburn...

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Predicting peak cropland

Can we control our destiny? by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Population by Total Fertility (millions). The United Nations predicts 10.1 billion living humans will inhabit the Earth by 2100. Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. New York. Joe Fargione, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s North American Region, wants to know how to feed 10 billion people. More specifically, he wants to know how much of the Earth’s land we will need to devote to crops to feed us all in the foreseeable future, for values of “foreseeable” converging on about one century hence. Ten billion and growing is the most recent UN global population projection for the year 2100. Fargione is a little more optimistic about reaching a population peak before the end of the century. Population has an intimate, complicated relationship to land use, and sparing wildlands from the plough is, of course, a topic close to TNC’s heart. “We currently crop an area equivalent to all of South America,” (about 1.5 billion hectares) Fargione said, explaining his (as yet unpublished, as far as I can discover) efforts to model “peak cropland” at World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington, D.C., on February 28. “We don’t have another South America to put into production.” As the human population continues to grow, and grow wealthier, more land will be converted to agriculture. But how much more, and when will it stop? Predicting peak cropland, the year when the greatest extent of Earth’s lands will be sown in crops, requires a metaprojection interpolating growth in population, food consumption, wealth, technology, and efficiency with the uncertain effects of a changing climate.  How many humans we will be, and how much and what kinds of food we will eat? Will we grow until we reach carrying capacity and world population is checked by the hard limits of starvation, or can we control our destiny? Fargione thinks it doesn’t have to come down to a Malthusian equation. He’s using predictions of a demographic transition from exponential population growth to static, stable numbers in the 21st century, counting on the non-compulsory drop in fertility observed in relatively wealthy nations to spread throughout the world. Japan and several European nations are currently below replacement rate (approximately 2.1 children per woman). Associated with the demographic transition is an uncertain tangle of influences: wealth, security, urbanization, and the education of girls. That last bit, the education of girls, is an angle Fargione thinks has been under appreciated and under emphasized by conservationists. A projection of straight numbers of humans is not sufficient to predict...

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Vegetables under plastic

Weighing the costs and benefits of plastic vegetable greenhouses over conventional vegetable production. By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers “seasonal high tunnel” kits as part of a three year trial to assess the potential of the plastic houses for conserving water and soil, reducing pesticide use, and improving yields for small farmers. Credit, NRCS. THE economic benefits, for small-holders in particular, of intensive vegetable cultivation inside plastic greenhouses have driven a rapid mushrooming of long plastic tents in farmlands worldwide – but principally in China, where they cover 3.3 million hectares and produce approximately US$60 million in produce (2008 figures). In fact, 90% of all greenhouses are in China, and less than 1% of Chinese greenhouses are glass. Covering vegetables with hoops of plastic sheeting conserves water, binds up carbon, shrinks land use, protects against soil erosion and exhaustion, and mitigates problematic dust storms. But this change from conventional vegetable farming has harmful environmental effects as well. Jie Chang and colleagues review the current research and identify gaps in our knowledge in the February issue of ESA’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Plastic greenhouses are cheap, and easy to construct from locally available materials like wood, bamboo, brick, and plastic sheeting. The Chinese government encourages construction with greenhouse-friendly policies, including credit programs to cover start-up costs. The protection from the cold extends the growing season. In the temperate north, this means farmers can have two seasons, and more than double their production. Most farms (90%) in China using plastic greenhouses are small, only 0.1-0.2 hectares, and the extra money is important to farmers with low incomes. It also makes vegetables available to more people in China, particularly during the off-season. Because the plastic catches evaporation and channels the water back to the crop, greenhouse-raised vegetables consume less water. In Shouguang Province on the northwest coast, traditional flood irrigation of conventional vegetable fields uses 8690 cubic meters of water per hectare. Farmers can reduce demand to 7049 m3ha-1 if drip irrigation is installed. Greenhouses need only 4500 m3ha-1 of water, and can get by with only 1800 m3ha-1 using drip irrigation. The difference grants a big advantage to greenhouse farmers in areas where industrial, agricultural and urban users compete fiercely for limited water resources. The plastic cover keeps soil and water in, and some harmful airborne pollutants out. Greenhouse farmers find it more worthwhile to cycle inedible vegetable biomass back into the fields and apply manure. Greater reliance on organic fertilizers means that the soil binds up more carbon than conventional open fields. Greenhouse vegetables need less pesticide and inorganic fertilizer per unit...

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ESA Policy News: February 15

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   STATE OF THE UNION: PRESIDENT URGES ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, SEQUESTER President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address outlined a number of bold domestic priorities, including addressing climate change and diverting a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts set to occur in March as a result of congressional  failure to come to agreement on comprehensive deficit reduction. “Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense,” said President Obama. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” With regard to budget sequestration, President Obama affirmed his support for a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction while contending that he would oppose an effort that unduly burden discretionary programs. “Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” said the president. “We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.” Among solutions to avert the sequester, President Obama endorsed changes to Medicare and tax reform proposals such as those outlined in the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission. Read or listen to President Obama’s full 2013 State of the Union address here. BUDGET: SENATE DEMOCRATS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO AVERT SEQUESTER On Feb. 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled a legislative proposal to avert automatic discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies. The deficit reduction in the bill is equally divided between spending cuts and new revenue. Members of Congress have until March 1 to pass a bill to avert the $1.2 trillion cuts to federal programs over the next ten years. The American Family Economic Protection Act would postpone the sequester for one year by canceling out the first year of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, which total $85 billion. In total, the bill includes $110 billion in deficit reduction, $55 billion in revenue increases and $55...

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ESA Policy News: December 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES REQUEST ACTION TO DETER ‘FISCAL CLIFF,’ SPENDING CUTS On Dec. 7, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a host of other scientific societies, universities and business leaders in sending a letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urging President Obama and Congressional leadership to reach a compromise deal that averts the ‘fiscal cliff’ while preserving federal investment in scientific research. ESA had sent the White House and Congress a similar letter late last month. The fiscal cliff includes a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (sequestration) set to occur in January, if the Congress does not come up with an alternative plan to lower the deficit by $1.2 trillion before then either through spending cuts or revenue increases. Defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 9.4 percent while non-defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 8.2 percent under the automatic cuts.  The fiscal cliff also includes expiring tax cuts and unemployment benefits that, if left unaddressed, collectively threaten to plunge the economy into another recession. The letter encourages the president and congressional leaders to come up with a balanced approach to deficit reduction, noting the important role of science and technological investment. “It is important to recognize that federal research and development (R&D) investments are not driving our national deficits,” the letter notes. “These investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts will be made. Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness.  We recognize that the United States faces severe fiscal challenges, and we urge you to begin to address them through a balanced approach that includes tax and entitlement reform.” Both sides have put forward general plans that propose increased revenues and cuts to entitlement programs. However, despite several face-to-face meetings between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in the weeks since the election, Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked over the particulars of a compromise proposal. With the holidays fast approaching, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has repeatedly asserted that the House will not adjourn until issues related to the fiscal cliff are resolved. The White House Office of Management and Budget has already begun directing federal agencies to begin planning for the sequester. To view the joint society letter, click here. To view the ESA letter, click here. DISASTER RELIEF: SENATE PROPOSES SANDY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS LEGISLATION...

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