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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Pollination from the plant’s perspective

If plants had a perspective, they would probably think of pollinators as more than just extra-friendly house guests. That is, plants would be more likely to view pollinators as the mutual friend who likes to set up blind dates. Bees might limit pollen to its use as a protein source for the hive, and birds might devour the flesh of a fruit and eliminate the seed as waste. However, many flowering plants, as Bug Girl pointed out in a post in honor of National Pollinator Week, have evolved alongside these pollinators for only one purpose: reproduction. “Sure, you can toss your pollen out on the wind and hope it lands in the right place. And for a lot of plants, evergreens in particular, this works just fine,” she wrote. “That methodology results in a lot of wasted gametes (plant sperm) though, so for nearly all flowering plants, insects or other pollinators are needed for plant nookie.” Sometimes the pollinator-plant relationship is mutualistic, and in many cases, one species or another is dependent upon the other for its survival. Take the agave plant. Probably the most well-known species is the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana), the nectar of which is used as a granular sugar substitute and to make tequila (one of the “finer” products of pollination, along with chocolate and coffee, mentioned by Bug Girl ). Leptonycteris nivalis, known as the greater long-nosed bat or Mexican long-nosed bat, and the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), are the primary pollinators of this economically and ecologically valuable plant. This agave-bat relationship is mutually beneficial. The bats, hovering in place like a hummingbird, use their long muzzles to feed on the high-fructose nectar of the agave. At the same time, the plants’ pollen collects on the bats’ fur. The bats then travel from plant to plant, spreading pollen as they drink from the nectar-filled stalks that bloom each night across the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The bats also migrate based on the blooming time of these plants. They arrive in Texas—particularly in Big Bend National Park, where a single colony resides in the Chisos Mountains—shortly after agave plants, such as the century plant (Agave havardiana), begin to bloom. Unfortunately, the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-nosed bat are endangered—and as their numbers decline, agave plant reproduction becomes more limited. A little farther north, however, some species of agave plants—those that are not harvested for tequila— have evolved to attract both bats and moths to serve as pollinators. Agave plants have several ways of advertising their nectar: the scent, the color of the flower and the shape, or morphology, of the structure...

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Ecological wild cards of Arizona’s Wallow wildfire

Is a specific person to blame for recent wildfires? While Arizona’s Wallow Fire fuels finger pointing, it takes more than a campfire to fuel the destructive wildfire raging across southeastern Arizona. A perfect storm of local ecology, climate and human management decisions have combined to set the stage for the largest wildland fire in Arizona’s history. The Wallow Fire that began on May 8 still rages through the largest ponderosa pine forest on the continent. Pinus ponderosa forests cover the higher mesas and mountains of the Colorado plateau on which the northeastern half of the state of Arizona sits. Forest fires are common in ponderosa forests: Typical ponderosa forest climate includes a spring dry season accompanied by increasing air temperatures, low humidity and consistent winds; conditions conducive to frequent early-summer fires. Before people started suppressing ponderosa forest fires, they burned about every 2-12 years. These were mostly low-intensity ground fires that destroyed small trees and shrubs. This process actually helped to return nutrients to the soil. Mature pines with their thick bark could withstand these small fires, which effectively removed fuel that might have fed larger, more destructive crown fires—fires like Wallow that burn from treetop to treetop. Then in 1886, the United States government kick-started federal forest fire policy in the newly-created National Parks. Lacking the ecological research to understand the important role of fire in these forests, the US Federal Government embarked on nearly a century of poor fire management policies. From 1886 to the 1960s, with few exceptions, federal forest fire policy was dominated by fire suppression, according to a comprehensive overview of US Federal Fire policy published in Ecological Applications in 2005. While the first prescribed burn program started in 1968, it was not until 1995 that federal fire policy was altered to “recognize and embrace the role of fire as an essential ecological process.” During the long period of fire suppression, some forests missed 8 to 10 fire rotations. These rotations had previously created a landscape of “majestic, open stands with rich grasses and occasional shrubs beneath,” as described by early explorers of the western US. Today the landscape is transformed into a dense forest with thickly arranged trees and an accumulation of litter and shrubs. “Where we once had 10 to 25 trees per acre [in western forests],” said Wally Covington, a professor of forest ecology at Northern Arizona University and executive director of NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute, “we now have hundreds.” While crown fires occurred in ponderosa forests before EuroAmerican settlement, according to a 2003 Ecological Monographs article, crown fires of such intensity as the Wallow fire seem to be a modern...

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