Sea otter voyeurs! a window on a Monterey Bay coastal research preserve
Oct25

Sea otter voyeurs! a window on a Monterey Bay coastal research preserve

Otter-cam peers into protected Elkhorn Slough.

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ESA Policy News: May 31
May31

ESA Policy News: May 31

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET SEQUESTRATION: COMMITTEE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS IMPACTS ON NATIONAL PARKS House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) recently released a report further detailing sequestration’s impacts on national parks. Noting that visitors to national parks spent about $30 billion in 2011, the report highlights several impacts it says are unavoidable. The report was released May 24, to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer park visitation season. Under budget sequestration, non-defense discretionary spending for all federal agencies is cut across all programs by five percent, leading to staff furloughs, hiring freezes as well as service cutbacks. The report details cutbacks at 23 of the 400 US parks. Several, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Glacier National Park will see reduced hours for their visitor centers. Reduced visitor hours at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia will reportedly deny access to 20,000 park visitors. The report also concludes that most parks will offer fewer educational opportunities and other special programs to visitors. In addition, parks will have less capacity to handle emergencies, such as coping with extreme weather events,   or law-enforcement situations, such as poaching and other crimes. Park repairs, maintenance of park facilities (including rest rooms) will also be scaled back due to sequestration, the report finds. View the full report here. NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES AGENCY WEATHER FORECASTING RESEARCH On May 23, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing entitled “Restoring US Leadership in Weather Forecasting.” The hearing examined legislation that intends to reprioritize research initiatives at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A sentiment among congressional Republicans on the subcommittee is that NOAA invests too much on climate research compared to weather research. “In 2012, NOAA barely spent one-third of the resources on weather research as it did on climate research,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) in his opening statement. In referencing disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Oklahoma, he stated “We have seen the devastating effects that severe weather can have on this country, and this bill would establish a priority mission for all of NOAA to improve forecasts and warnings to protect lives and property.” Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Bonamici (D-OR) expressed concern that the legislation might hamper investment in NOAA’s other priorities. She pointed out that NOAA’s broad mission includes collecting weather data as well as research to help understand and anticipate ecosystem changes that may impact coastal communities. “NOAA has a sweeping...

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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: 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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What’s your number?

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Many of us still operate under the notion that, as responsible car owners, we should get our vehicle’s oil changed every 3,000 miles to keep our engines running smoothly.  But it turns out that this engrained wisdom is not true if you own a vehicle that is about ten years old or younger.  Newer car models have cleaner-running engines and usually only need oil changes every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. In addition to saving money and time, the main reason this is important is because of how much oil is unnecessarily wasted and also contributes to water pollution by people who incorrectly dispose of oil  filters. An article in February’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment by Robin Meadows reports on this topic and on a recent survey administered by California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).  The survey revealed that about half of all non-commercial drivers in the Golden State change their motor oil much too frequently. And while most of us are responsible—according to the article, 80 percent of used motor oil is recycled in the U.S.—the remaining 20 percent is not disposed of properly, ending up contaminating water.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of the pollution in U.S. streams, rivers, and lakes is from motor oil. The CalRecycle survey also showed that many of us don’t bother looking up the recommended oil change frequency in our car manuals.  To raise awareness and encourage better practices, CalRecycle has started a campaign called Check Your Number.  As described in the Frontiers article: “Related kick-off events entailed giving free parking spots in crowded venues to drivers who check their owner’s manuals and display the recommended oil-change intervals on their windshields.” CalRecycle hopes to next focus on do-it-yourselfers who don’t properly dispose of oil filters. Photo credit:...

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Waves mightier than sun, otter or urchin: storm disturbance shapes California kelp forests

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. As winter storms pick up along the California coast, a harvest of giant kelp comes ashore with the tides, torn from seafloor anchorages by the rough action of waves. Waves are the most powerful force shaping the kelp forest, superseding the influence of temperature, nutrients, and hungry animals, say University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers in the November issue of Ecology. From Alaska to Baja California, kelp undulates in the currents of rocky coastal shallows, feeding and sheltering a host of sea creatures and birds. Americans harvest kelp for food and fish feed, and the kelp forest harbors commercially valuable fish and shellfish. In central and southern California, the giant kelp predominates. Macrocysits pyrifera anchors at depths of 6 to 150 feet, and is the largest alga in the world, reaching underwater heights of nearly 150 feet in a single season. Conversion of sunlight into kelp fuels an ecosystem. “Primary production is the amount of plant material produced per unit area of the Earth’s surface per unit time. It’s really the basis of all life on Earth for the most part,” said Dan Reed, research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UCSB, and principle investigator of the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research project. In the kelp forest, the primary producer is the kelp itself. Reed and his colleagues wanted to know how periodic disturbances from large waves stacked up against other influences on kelp forest growth. Lack of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, slows the kelp’s exuberant expansion, as do the teeth of small, but numerous, sea animals. Kelp is the favorite food of the sea urchin, as commercial harvesters of the fist-sized, spiky animal well know. Urchins do not climb the kelp stalks. They forage across the seafloor, devouring fallen kelp blades (analogous to leaves) and chunks. But their powerful, self-sharpening teeth can also chew through the holdfasts of the kelp, releasing the giants to the mercies of the ocean currents, as graphically exhibited by time-lapse footage in the BBC’s documentary Planet Earth. In concentrated herds, unchecked urchins have been known to raze entire forests. The check on the urchin is the sea otter, a top predator of the kelp forest. The demands of the otters’ high metabolisms drive them to eat up to a fourth of their body weight in invertebrates daily, and they like sea urchins. The otters are a classic example of a keystone species, an animal whose eating habits tip a crucial balance in a cascade of consumer-and-consumed reactions. The arrival of otters in new territory has changed relatively barren, stony seafloor into...

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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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Ecological research in images

(Click the below image to view the photo gallery.) This week, the American Museum of Natural History launched the exhibit “Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies” which explores the images produced by scientists while performing research. The images range from bug genitalia to staghorn coral (see video at the end of this post). As quoted in a recent Wired Science article, “‘A lot of people come to the museum under [the] impression that we just look at stuff in dusty jars, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,’ said zoologist Mark Siddall, curator of the museum’s new exhibit. ‘There’s a lot of solid, cutting-edge research going on here with incredibly advanced technology.’” Dave Mosher explained in the Wired Science article that images like these are a large part of any scientific endeavor, but often times, these images are filed away—never to be seen by the public. Of course, there are journals that publish images alongside the research articles. While they are all accessible through searches, these images are not typically displayed like those that are being featured in the AMNH’s new exhibit. The above photo gallery presents only some of the images that have been featured in the Ecological Society of America’s journals over the last decade or so. Click on the image to scroll through and learn a bit about the research corresponding with each image. Many of the images featured in ESA journals are taken by the researchers themselves. Browse all of the cover images on ESA’s journals...

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