ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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Managing non-native invasive plants

 This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Many invasive species can have a domino effect of throwing an entire ecosystem off balance by diminishing native plant or animal species that function as an important resource for both natural ecosystems and human communities. According to the Nature Conservancy, the estimated damage from invasive species worldwide totals over $1.4 trillion, five percent of the global economy. Invasive species that have gained notoriety in the United States include the Burmese python, Asian carp, Northern snakehead fish,Asian tiger mosquito, emerald ash borer and  brown marmorated stink bug. Non-native  invasives from the plant kingdom can be just as damaging, if not more so. Invasive plant species have the ability to reduce the amounts of light, water, nutrients and space available to native species in an ecosystem. Their ability to affecthydrological patterns, soil chemistry, soil erosion and fire frequency can also have disastrous economic consequences for human society, particularly the agricultural industry. Federal management of invasive species is primarily handled by the United States Department of Agriculture along with the National Park Service.  According to the U.S. Forest Service, invasive exotic plants constitute eight to 47 percent of the total flora of most states in the nation. Of the approximately 4,500 exotic species currently in the U.S., at least 15 percent cause severe harm. Examples of the detriments of invasive plants include alteration of food webs, degradation on wildlife habitat, changes of fire and hydrological regimes and increases in erosion rates. The Forest Service estimates that the United States spends approximately $145 million annually in its attempt to control non-native invasive plants. In a recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Sara Kuebbing discusses her work on invasive plant species at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In addition, Kuebbing serves on the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council (TN-EPPC). Her work has included some of the most problematic invasive plant species in the state of Tennessee and the greater United States. During the podcast, Sara touches on her research and efforts by TN-EPPC and affiliated state entities to educate communities on invasive plant species and manage both existing and potential threat species. Perhaps among the most renowned invasive plant species is kudzu, which currently inhabits 30 states and the District of Columbia. According to scientific studies, kudzu’s nationwide invasion costs about $100-500 million per year in forest productivity loss. Kudzu can grow on top of structures and even other plants, including trees, basically suffocating them by obstructing their access to light and other necessary resources.  Power companies spend about $1.5 million annually to control...

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ESA Policy News: April 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP BUDGET SETS FURTHER DISCRETIONARY SPENDING CAPS On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer. Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling. The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare. For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING SYSTEMS On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods. In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of...

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Fed seeks to inspire community-driven conservation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced that it is seeking public input on a proposal to expand incentives for farmers, ranchers and other private landowners to help conserve wildlife. The proposal is part of the agency’s effort to seek innovative ways to improve implementation of the Endangered Species Act. The FWS request for public comment includes solicitation of ideas on how to make existing conservation collaboration tools more effective, such as Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, and Candidate Conservation Agreements. The agency’s effort is intended to lead towards consensus approaches and towards encouraging conservation practices by landowners that help preserve species that are candidates for federal protection. One potential proposal before FWS includes the establishment of conservation “banks” for at-risk species. The conservation banks would sell credits that allow landowners to offset the impact of their activities on at-risk species as well as buy credits that reward landowners for making habitat improvements. Also under consideration is the development of a new agreement to provide landowners with assurances that conservation actions taken to benefit species prior to listing could be used to offset the adverse effects of activities carried out later, in the event the species is listed. FWS is also working on a similar effort with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service entitled the Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. The collaboration offers financial and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to restore and protect the habitats for seven at-risk species across the nation, including the  greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. Interested producers can enroll in the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program on a continuous basis at their local NRCS field office. Public comments on the Endangered Species Act reform proposal are due May 14, 2012 and can be submitted using the following methods: Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0099]; or U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0099]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Photo Credit:...

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ESA Policy News: March 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES The House Science, Space and Technology committee recently convened hearings that examined the science and research investments outlined in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. During a Feb. 17 hearing that focused on research and development, there was a consensus among committee leaders on certain investments while views differed sharply on where the administration’s priorities should lie. “I continue to believe that while it is true that prudent investments in science and technology, including STEM education, will almost certainly yield future economic gains and help create new jobs of the future, it is also true that these gains can be hindered by poor decision-making,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Hall expressed his concern for increases in programs he views as “duplicative and wasteful” as well as increases for climate change related research. Hall also expressed concern for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) request, which would cut funding by $59 million. Committee Democrats were overall supportive of the budget, mindful of the current political climate that has members of both parties urging some manner of fiscal restraint. “Investments in research and development and STEM education are critical to fostering innovation and maintaining our nation’s competitive edge.  But these are also fiscally challenging times,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We will have some concerns and disagreements, but let me be clear.  This is a good budget for research, innovation, and education under the circumstances,” she added. With regard to the administration’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF), austerity concerns from the majority were somewhat more tepid. “While a nearly five percent increase for NSF in FY 13 shows stronger fiscal constraint than the FY 2012 request at 13 percent, I remain concerned that our federal agencies still are not doing enough to encourage austerity and properly prioritize scarcer federal funds,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). “NSF has a long and proven track record, one in which we are all proud, and I have every reason to believe NSF will continue this good work with whatever budgets are forthcoming from Congress,” he concluded. View the R&D hearing here. View the NSF hearing here. BUDGET: EPA ADMINISTRATOR CRITICIZED OVER REGULATORY EFFORTS The week of February 27 brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings concerning the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request. Funding for EPA under the president’s budget request would be cut by one percent for a total of...

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Solutions for a nitrogen-soaked world

Overabundance of an essential nutrient is not always a good thing. – by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. A tractor spreads manure. Excess fertilizer seeping out of fields has a host of consequences for ecological systems and human health. Credit, flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia, 2010.   NITROGEN is both an essential nutrient and a pollutant, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion and a fertilizer that feeds billions, a benefit and a hazard, depending on form, location, and quantity. Agriculture, industry and transportation have spread nitrogen liberally around the planet, say scientists in the latest edition of ESA’s Issues in Ecology series, with complex and interrelated consequences for ecological communities and our dependence upon the resources they provide, as well as for human health. Nitrogen is a basic component of life’s most famous molecules: proteins, RNA and DNA. Though nitrogen fills 78.1 percent of the air we breathe, energy is required to convert (or ‘’fix”) it into biologically accessible forms, a process that some species of bacteria can accomplish, but other organisms cannot. Consumers like humans, cows, birds and mosquitoes get nitrogen by eating other live things. For plants, lack of nitrogen in their immediate environment can be a serious limitation. In many ecosystems, the limit of available nitrogen is the limit of growth. We have removed that limit for our food crops by supplying them with fertilizer in the form of manure, nitrogen-“fixing” bacteria symbiotic with legumes like soybeans, and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Pulling from a broad pool of expertise in air quality, agronomy, ecology, epidemiology and groundwater geochemistry, the sixteen authors track nitrogen through its different chemical forms and biological incarnations as it progresses across economic, environmental and regulatory bounds. They argue for a systematic, rather than piecemeal, approach to managing the resource and its consequences. “We’re really trying to identify solutions,” said lead author Eric Davidson, a soil ecologist and executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center. “This is a paper about how much we <em>do</em> know, not about what we don’t know. We know about nitrogen cycles, and sources, and we know problems can be addressed in economically viable ways.” In the mid-twentieth century, widespread adoption of the Haber-Bosch industrial process for “fixing” nitrogen from the air using fossil fuels (natural gas, usually) changed agriculture in the US, and there is no going back. There are seven billion people on Earth. Without synthetic nitrogen, author Jim Galloway, a biogeochemist at the University of Virginia, estimates we could feed about four billion. “There are a variety of impacts due to the human use of nitrogen. The biggest is a positive one, in that it allows us to...

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In Ecology news- climate change, wine, volcanoes, automated birdsong, animated krill, and the mysteries of ‘womanspace’

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer In the news By 2080, Adirondack communities dependent on snow for winter tourism dollars may be struggling, says a report commissioned by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. But the Finger Lakes wine country may benefit from a longer, warmer growing season and more water. Touching lightly on a full spectrum of consequences, from ecological shifts and agriculture to human health and infrastructure, the report summarizes risk potential across the state…based on sources that are probably available somewhere. Leslie Kaufman reports in the New York Times. An uncertain future climate is a big concern for vineyards. Grape varietals are sensitive to temperature and humidity, and some famous wine regions may be forced to re-brand themselves to stay in business. With decades invested in developing a productive, mature vineyard, viticulture is a long-range endeavor. Wine makers need to carefully plan new plantings of vine stocks to cope with future drought, deluges, and heat. Paige Donner covers industry strategies to predict and adapt to future conditions. In the Permian Era, 252 million years before the controversies of our own climactic changes, climate change killed most of the Earth’s species, says geologist Shu-zhong Shen and colleagues in this week’s Science Express. The culprit during the Permian was massive volcanic activity. The team collected sediment samples across southern China to produce a chronology of the mass extinction, bracketing the loss of life to a period lasting a mere 200,000 years, and confirming that land-based species died during the same period as marine species. Science writer Seth Borenstein reports for the Associated Press. Volcanoes affect the climate in our time, as well, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had one of a magnitude to produce catastrophe. On the November 4th Science podcast, Richard Stone talks about “the most dangerous volcano you haven’t heard about,” Mount Paektu at the border of China and North Korea. Slideshow.   On the blogtrail At The Last Word on Nothing, Thomas Hayden enthuses about krill feces and the delightful rise of biological diversity in pop culture, represented by the latest animated singing animals in Happy Feet Two. Jennifer Ouellette writes about an app for bird song identification in development by Ecuadoran researchers Hugo Andrade and David Puente. And the science blogs are humming with outrage over a short story published in Nature (did you know that Nature publishes fiction?). It seems that that Nature senior editor Henry Gee was looking for controversy. “I’m amazed we haven’t had any outraged comments about this story,” he commented on October 3rd, on Nature’s fiction page, “Futures,” which he...

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Pest control resources fell as anti-terrorism efforts rose

The United States “war on terrorism” mobilized the federal government to take action to prevent a recurrence of the events of 9/11/01. Ten years and just over a month later, efforts that span two presidential administrations have led to a country that is more secure against one of Earth’s most dangerous species: humans. Unfortunately, an unwanted side effect has been a jump in the infiltration into the U.S. of countless other species that pose an entirely different kind of threat. A recent analysis by the Associate Press (AP), found that in the years since 9/11, scientists that were once responsible for curbing the entry of invasive species at U.S. borders have been reassigned to anti-terrorism efforts after the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), established under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296). In 2003, as laid out in the bill’s provisions, many APHIS agricultural border inspectors were transferred from the Department of Agriculture to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As a result, the number of pest cases intercepted at U.S. ports of entry fell from over 81,200 in 2002 to less than 58,500 in 2006. The numbers have since steadily risen again after complaints from farm industry and lawmakers. As highlighted in a recent EcoTone post, invasive species can be serious burden on the economy as clean up costs for individual species can number anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. The AP article notes that the most problematic overseas imports are fruits, vegetables and spices, which can carry insects, their larvae or contagions capable of decimating crops. The article states that crop-threatening species has spiked from eight in 1999 to at least 30 in 2010. The Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR) reports that since 1991, the silver-leaf whitefly has cost an estimated $500 million to California agriculture, translating to “roughly $774 million in private sector sales, 12,540 jobs and $112.5 million in personal income.” Nationally, the fly’s damage has been estimated to be in excess of $1 billion.  CISR also found that the red palm weevil, first identified in the United States in August 2010, poses a “serious threat” to ornamental palm tree sales, which contribute $70 million to the California economy and $127 million to the Florida economy each year. A recent study found that wood boring insects, such as the Asian long-horn beetle, reportedly cost more than $3.5 billion in losses, including $1.7 billion to local governments, $1.59 billion to homeowners, $130 million to forest landowners and $92 million to the federal government. The same study concluded there is a 32 percent...

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