ESA Policy News September 2: Obama talks climate in Alaska, Research groups praise Senators for science conference support
Sep02

ESA Policy News September 2: Obama talks climate in Alaska, Research groups praise Senators for science conference support

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  ARCTIC: OBAMA CALLS FOR CLIMATE ACTION AT ALASKA CONFERENCE On August 29, President Obama spoke before the conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER) in Alaska where he discussed how climate change is impacting the Arctic and called on world leaders to join in global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama’s visit makes him the first sitting president to visit the Arctic. “Warmer, more acidic oceans and rivers, and the migration of entire species, threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism,” said the president. “Reduced sea levels leaves villages unprotected from floods and storm surges.  Some are in imminent danger; some will have to relocate entirely.  In fact, Alaska has some of the swiftest shoreline erosion rates in the world.” The president used the forum to call on the world’s nations to agree to a climate treaty when they meet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this fall. The president discussed the efforts the United States and China are implementing to cut carbon emissions while stressing that addressing climate change requires action from multiple nations. Click here to view the president’s full remarks before the GLACIER conference. Click here for additional Obama administration efforts to address climate change in the Arctic. WATER: COURT RULING IMPEDES OBAMA CLEAN WATER RULE US District Court Chief Judge Ralph Erickson in North Dakota has granted a preliminary injunction impacting 13 states against the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States rule, which redefines which streams and wetlands merit federal protection under the Clean Water Act that is administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency contends the injunction will only apply to the 13 states that filed the lawsuit: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, while the new rule will proceed in the 37 other states. Judge Erickson concluded that the regulation likely oversteps the US Supreme Court’s decision in Rapanos vs. the United States. The injunction serves to halt implementation of the rule for as long as litigation persists and can be overturned. The 2008 guidance that has been on the books to govern Clean Water Act decisions will remain in effect for the 13 states. Click here to view the full ruling. Click here for additional information on the EPA clean water rule. ENDANGERED SPECIES: USDA ANNOUNCES SAGE GROUSE CONSERVATION EFFORT On August 27, the US Department of Agriculture announced a...

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ESA Policy News July 29: White House teams with businesses to advance climate pledge, agriculture spending bills advance, ESA responds to Senate COMPETES comment request
Jul29

ESA Policy News July 29: White House teams with businesses to advance climate pledge, agriculture spending bills advance, ESA responds to Senate COMPETES comment request

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: COMPANIES UNITE WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA ON CLIMATE PLEDGE Thirteen of the largest companies in the United States are joining the Obama administration in the American Business Act on Climate Pledge: Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart. The companies making pledges represent more than $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014 and a combined market capitalization of at least $2.5 trillion. In signing the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” the businesses 1) voice their support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations 2) pledge to reduce their carbon emissions and take other actions that improve sustainability and address climate change 3) set an example that will pave the way for a second round of pledges from additional companies this fall. Click here for additional information. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE MOVE FY 2016 AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS Over the past several weeks, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their respective Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bills for FY 2016. The bills provide funding for most US Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. Overall FY 2016 funding in both bills is lower than the enacted FY 2015 spending level to comply with sequestration funding levels. However, the Senate bill does increase funding for most agricultural research programs. Though the White House has yet to issue a veto threat of either bill, it did submit a letter of concern on the House bill. Below are summaries of funding for specific USDA entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2015 enacted funding: Agricultural Research Service House: $1.12 billion; $10.17 million less than FY 2015. Senate: $1.14 billion; a $4.2 million increase over FY 2015. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service House: $870.95 million; $370,000 less than FY 2015. Senate: $876.47 million; a $5.15 million increase over FY 2015. Natural Resources Conservation Service House: $832.93 million; $13.5 million less than FY 2015. Senate: $855.21 million; an $8.78 million increase over FY 2015. Agriculture and Food Research Initiative House: $335 million; a $10 million increase over FY 2015. Senate: $325 million; level with FY 2015. Click here to view the White House letter of the House Agriculture FY 2016 spending bill. INTERIOR: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION PERMITS OIL DRILLING IN ARCTIC On July 22, the Obama administration granted Shell conditional approval to conduct limited exploratory drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska in Arctic waters. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)...

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New diseases travel on the wings of birds in a rapidly changing north
Dec02

New diseases travel on the wings of birds in a rapidly changing north

When wild birds are a big part of your diet, opening a freshly shot bird to find worms squirming around under the skin is a disconcerting sight. That was exactly what Victoria Kotongan saw in October, 2012, when she set to cleaning two of four spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) she had taken near her home in Unalakleet, on the northwest coast of Alaska. The next day, she shot four grouse and all four harbored the long, white worms. In two birds, the worms appeared to be emerging from the meat. Kotongan, worried about the health of the grouse and the potential risk to her community, reported the parasites to the Local Environmental Observer Network, which arranged to have the frozen bird carcasses sent to a lab for testing. Lab results identified the worms as the nematode Splendidofilaria pectoralis, a thinly described parasite previously observed in blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus pallidus) in interior British Columbia, Canada. The nematode had not been seen before so far north and west. Though S. pectoralis is unlikely to be dangerous to people, other emerging diseases in northern regions are not so innocuous. Animals are changing their seasonal movements and feeding patterns to cope with the changing climate, bringing into close contact species that rarely met in the past. Nowhere is this more apparent than the polar latitudes, where warming has been fastest and most dramatic. Red foxes are spreading north into arctic fox territory. Hunger is driving polar bears ashore as sea ice shrinks. Many arctic birds undertake long migratory journeys and have the mobility to fly far beyond their historical ranges, or extend their stay in attractive feeding or nesting sites. With close contact comes a risk of infection with the exotic parasites and microorganisms carried by new neighbors, and so disease is finding new territory as well. Clement conditions extend the lifecycles of disease carrying insects, and disease-causing organisms. Migratory birds can take infectious agents for rides over great distances. In November 2013, Alaska Native residents of St. Lawrence Island, in the Bering Sea, alerted wildlife managers to the deaths of hundreds of crested auklets, thick-billed murres, northern fulmars and other seabirds, caused by an outbreak of highly contagious avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida). “It’s the first time avian cholera has shown up in Alaska,” said Caroline Van Hemert, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “St. Lawrence Island is usually iced in by November, but last year we had a warm fall and winter in Alaska. We don’t know for sure that open water, climate, and high-densities of birds contributed to the outbreak, but it coincided with unusual...

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In ecology news: bicentenarian rockfish, floating tuna attractors, death tangles for silky sharks
Jul05

In ecology news: bicentenarian rockfish, floating tuna attractors, death tangles for silky sharks

THIS STORY about a man and fish (a shortraker rockfish, Sebastes borealis) started as a little local news spot in the Daily Sitka Sentinel in late June – man catches record-breaking 39.08-pound rockfish! Could be 200 years old! [Update 7/8/2013 — The Alaska Dispatch reported Friday that Alaska Fish and Game determined the fish was only 64 years old. — Thanks to Benjamin Walther for the tip.] It suddenly blew up into a wide-release story in the slow news week around the July 4th holiday, with headlines like this one from io9: “Man catches freaky 200-year-old fish, promptly kills it” or a slightly different take from the L.A. Times: “Ancient rockfish caught in Alaska: Why nobody threw it back.” A graduate student posting as “Dr What?” took up oi9’s gauntlet: “This guys was fishing at 900 feet. That depth is the equivilent of 30 atmospheres of pressure. Rockfish have a gas filled sack called a swim bladder that helps them maintain their buoancy. From that depth, the swim bladder would have massively expanded and almost surely killed the fish before he got it to the surface. I study rockfishes (I’m a marine biologist in Central California) and anything deeper than about 400 feet dies when you get it to the surface. Anything deeper than about 50 feet needs assistance returning to the bottom to recompress. This guy couldn’t have known what he had until he got it the surface and by then it was dead. Cut him some slack.” A long thread ensues in which Dr What? explains some science and explains some of his own personal opinions (without mistaking one for the other, for the most part – which isn’t easy), and wins over a few io9 commentators. Occasionally, fisheries conservationists defend recreational fishermen, comments are worth reading, and people play nice on the internet. I could not confirm Dr What?’s statement that the fish’s otoliths (analogous to inner ear bones in a mammal, fish otoliths accumulate rings of carbonate that record years lived) put the fish’s age at closer to 100 years, however. As far as I can tell, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is still working on it. IN OTHER fish news, a report published on e-View in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this week found that silky sharks are swimming head-on into “fish attracting devices” (FADs—basically, tangles of junk and old nets with a strange and mysterious magnetism for tuna) and becoming entangled. The authors estimate that hundreds of thousands of silky sharks die in FADs, yearly. Read about it in Conservation Magazine. John David Filmalter, Manuela Capello, Jean-Louis Deneubourg, Paul Denfer...

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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. NSF: SCIENCE COMMITTEE LEADERS WEIGH IN ON BEHAVIORAL RESEARCH INVESTMENT 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. SENATE: APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA FY 2014 BUDGET REQUEST 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...

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Changing climate, changing landscape: monitoring the vast wilderness of interior Alaska
Mar28

Changing climate, changing landscape: monitoring the vast wilderness of interior Alaska

First ten-years of data from an ongoing monitoring effort sets a baseline for modeling and forestry management in Denali National Park and Preserve — listen to the Field Talk podcast with park service ecologist Carl Roland.

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Watching the river flow – the complex effect of stream variability on Bristol Bay’s wildlife

Sylvia Fallon, a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, blogged about ecosystem dynamics and the key role of salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed last week, in a post inspired by Peter Lisi’s presentation at ESA’s 2012 annual meeting in Portland. Peter is a postdoc in Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. Here’s an excerpt from Sylvia’s post: Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska supports the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery.  And now scientists have a new understanding why: water temperature and stream flow.   Variation in the temperature and flow of streams is key to supporting not just Bristol Bay’s prolific salmon populations, but also the area’s immense wildlife diversity from bears to birds to plants, according to new research presented this week at the Ecological Society of America meetings in Portland, Oregon.  Working in the Wood River watershed of Southwest Alaska, scientists found that the diversity of stream conditions results in salmon that spawn at different times throughout the season, thereby extending the time that predators and scavengers can feast on this important food supply. …continue reading “Watching the river flow – the complex effect of stream variability on Bristol Bay’s wildlife” on Sylvia’s NRDC blog. In addition to speaking in a symposium on “The Evolving Role of Environmental Scientists in Informing Sustainable Ecosystem Policy and Management” at ESA2012, Sylvia delivered a lunchtime address to ESA’s Rapid Response Team, advising them on her area of expertise, policy engagement. In the early 2000’s, ESA assembled a diverse group of ecologists from agencies, academia and other research environments, who agreed to be on call to reporters and policy makers for expert information on rapidly evolving events of with ecological ramifications — events like the 2010 BP oil spill and hurricane Katrina. But the Team is not just for breaking news. They are also on hand (or on the other end of a phone) to provide ecological context and background on biofuels, climate change, agriculture, forests and fisheries. The Team’s membership turns over every few years to bring in new blood and give longer functioning members a break. Rapid Response Team scientists, and ESA members at large, are also encouraged to reach out to media and legislators before being asked. Fish & Wildlife and other government agencies, for example, typically have public comment periods for policy proposals. Sylvia urged the Team not to underestimate the power of commentary from independent scientists. “In these situations, my association with an environmental advocacy group does tend to compromise my credentials,” she said. During comment periods she often reaches out to scientific community to submit comments, “begging, will you comment, have you...

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ESA Policy News: August 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS AVOIDS FALL SHUTDOWN, SEQUESTRATION CUTS STILL LOOM On July 31, congressional leaders announced an agreement on federal appropriations funding that would avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Sept. 30. The deal has the benefit of punting a contentious debate over federal spending levels for FY 2013 until after the November elections. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would take up a continuing resolution in September, reportedly free of riders, to fund the government through the end of March. Overall, the agreement would fund the government at $1.047 trillion for the six months beginning after Sept. 30. Politically, the move would give whichever party is in control of Congress and the White House next year the ability to set funding levels for the remainder of FY 2013. Given the closeness of the presidential election, both parties feel this works in their favor. The deal also takes an issue off the table for what could be a potentially busy and contentious lame duck session. In addition to needing to address a swath of tax cuts set to expire at year’s end, Congress has still not yet reached agreement on how to handle across-the-board sequestration cuts instituted under the Budget Control Act. If Congress does not act before January, discretionary spending programs will receive an eight percent cut in funding totaling $109 billion. SENATE: COMMITTEE HEARING REVIVES CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE On August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing on climate change science. The hearing marked the first time the committee had dedicated a hearing specifically focused on the issue since 2009. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referenced the National Academy of Sciences as well as reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautic Space Administration that state that humans are impacting climate change and that these changes are already having detrimental impacts on the environment including extreme weather conditions, droughts and melting glaciers. In her statement, Chairwoman Boxer also referenced a New York Times article by former climate-skeptic Professor Richard Muller who stated: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” In the article’s opening sentence, Muller proclaims “Call me a converted skeptic.”...

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