Amplified spending constraints, political division necessitates policy engagement by scientists
Aug28

Amplified spending constraints, political division necessitates policy engagement by scientists

  When Congress returns from the August recess, it will have just a few weeks (10 scheduled legislative working days total) to pass legislation to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30 when the current fiscal year ends. Both the House and Senate have introduced appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. Congressional Republicans, now in control of both the House and Senate, have vowed to adhere to the sequestration spending caps on discretionary spending that were put in place by the Budget Control Act (Public Law 112-25). The Senate has introduced, yet failed to move its 12 of its FY 2016 spending bills to the Senate floor. The minority party has filibuster power in the Senate, requiring many bills to secure support from at least 60 Senators. Senate Democrats have vowed to oppose any appropriations bills that adhere to the sequestered spending constraints. Congressional Democrats and the White House have urged lawmakers to negotiate a deficit reduction alternative that provides relief to federal discretionary spending programs. Meanwhile, the House has managed to pass six of its 12 FY 2016 appropriations bills, including its Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies bill, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other agencies. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2015 Graduate Student Policy Award recipient Cleo Chou discussed how sustained funding support from the NSF has been vital to both her research and continued education as a graduate student. Chou explained that her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship helped fund the past three years of her stipend as a Ph.D. student as well as her tuition. NSF also helped fund equipment at the facility where she conducts her research into carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical rainforests. Chou’s research will further understanding of climate change and will help ensure society can continue to benefit from the various ecosystem services tropical rainforests provide such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity and food. Chou also reflected on her overall experience in Washington, DC, learning about the federal budget process and the meetings she attended as part of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition congressional visits to urge lawmakers to continue to support funding for NSF and biological research.  The visits helped lawmakers understand how sustained investment in scientific research benefits the communities they represent. The 2013 federal government shutdown showcased both the short-term and long-term effects a lapse in government funding can have on scientific research. Amid a multitude of political and practical considerations policymakers will weigh as they negotiate how to prioritize funding for national priorities, it is important that...

Read More
Strawberry poison frogs feed their babies poison eggs
Mar20

Strawberry poison frogs feed their babies poison eggs

The Strawberry poison frog lavishes care upon its offspring. It’s just that kind of frog. In the March issue of Ecology, Stynoski et al. report that it also feeds its progeny poison. Also in this issue: P value debates, arctic warming, and estimating the success of biological invasions.

Read More
ESA Policy News: August 23
Aug23

ESA Policy News: August 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST Congress has adjourned for the August district work period leaving a full plate of must-dos when members return after Labor Day. Many items on their list will  need to be addressed before the end of September. The largest item will be the completion of the appropriations cycle. While it is typical for many (if not most) appropriations bills not to have been sent to the president’s desk at this stage, the current party divide between the House and the Senate had added an extra layer of contention to the appropriations cycle in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Senate must reach a consensus with the Republican-controlled House on spending levels for 12 appropriations spending bills in order to prevent a partial or full shutdown of the government on Sept. 30, when Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ends. The partisan tension is heightened by the continued budget sequestration, given that Republicans in the House are drafting their non-defense discretionary spending assuming the sequestration continues through FY 2014 while Senate Democrats are drafting their bills in line with the much higher spending caps originally mandated in the Budget Control Act in 2011. Nonetheless, unless the House and Senate can either come up with a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester or vote to nullify it altogether, sequestration by law will continue to be implemented through FY 2014 and beyond. Congress must also reach a consensus on reauthorization of the farm bill, which also runs out on Sept. 30. Both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, but the legislation differs substantially both in funding and scope. The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 66-27, also includes a requirement that farmers meet certain conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance. The House farm bill, which passed by a narrow vote of 216-208 with no Democratic support, does not include the conservation provisions and lacks a food stamp extension as House Republicans were not able to reach a consensus on food stamp funding prior to the August recess. It also differs from the Senate in that it includes provisions that waive regulatory rules related to pesticide control and environmental reviews of forestry projects. Another major issue Congress will have to tackle around the same time is the national debt ceiling, which is projected to be reached around the start of the new fiscal year. Members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a deficit...

Read More

US industry: saving energy is good business

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As someone who is mostly immersed in the world of science and environmental policy, either sharing ecological research related to climate change or tracking congressional efforts (or lack thereof) to develop policy to mitigate and adapt to global warming, it came as an eye-opening and pleasant change of pace to me this week to learn about US business and federal agency actions already underway. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was invited to be a supporting partner of the 2013 Climate Leadership Conference. With the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the headline sponsor, the meeting drew some 500 leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to share their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy, water, and waste, and think about new opportunities. Too often, I find myself caught up in the frustrations felt by many in the scientific community in regard to congressional non-action in the arena of climate change.  A topic that often comes with some pessimism was instead cast in a much more positive light—well-known industries—Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, IBM, Hershey, Ford Motor Co.—taking positive steps to help address the problem, sharing best practices and ideas to continue to save energy, improving the efficiency of their operations and thereby also enhancing their bottom line. For example, Steve Tochilin, General Manager, Environmental Sustainability, with Delta Airlines, talked about the “elephant in the room for Delta and other airlines,” namely that about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from airlines, a figure that is expected to grow as aviation increases in Brazil, India and China.  “Fuel is killing us,” he said, referring to skyrocketing costs.  Since, so far, there is no viable alternative energy source for planes, every airline is looking to increase fuel efficiency, said Tochilin. Delta is working to reduce how much fuel it uses by some common sense steps to reduce the weight its planes must carry, including: moving to more fuel efficient jets, offering more direct flights (to avoid circling), ripping the “kitchens” out of planes (many routes no longer serve food so why fly around with the extra weight?), installing lighter seats, hauling only the water (water is really heavy) needed for a given flight, etc.  Delta was recently added to the Dow Jones sustainability index. Staples Inc., the office supply store and world’s second largest e-commerce site, has focused on reducing the carbon footprint of its buildings and vehicles, according to Mark Buckley, Staples’ Vice President for Environmental Affairs.  But while it’s had success in reducing its energy use in these areas, Buckley conceded that because the bulk of its carbon...

Read More

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...

Read More

ESA Policy News: August 30

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. DROUGHT: DRY CONDITIONS COME WITH NUMEROUS COSTS, HARDSHIP FOR COMMUNITIES According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of the week of Aug. 21, roughly 53 percent of the nation has experienced at least moderate drought conditions. This has been the case roughly since mid-July. Drought conditions stand to have multifaceted effects on ecosystems as well as the U.S economy, particularly agriculture. Private crop insurers could lose more than $5 billion if this year’s drought destroys more crops than the one in 1988, according to Standard & Poor’s. By 2030, climate change could cause $1.1 billion to $4.1 billion in losses for Corn Belt farmers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The agency states it expects to spend $170 million to help livestock ranchers devastated by the drought. Along the Mississippi River, slowing currents from the drought have allowed salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to advance up the river, leading to the issuance of a state of emergency and drinking water advisory for communities around Chalmette, LA. Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. will build a 1,700 foot-long sill at the bottom of the river to block the heavier salt water from seeping farther north. The project, spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will cost $5.8 million. Dry conditions alter wildfire management practices Furthermore, the drought corresponds with an increase in forest fires. In lieu of this increased dryness and record heat, which allows fire to spread more easily and do more damage, the U.S. Forest Service has altered its wildfire containment practices. Consequently, the agency has temporary suspended a long standing “let it burn” policy, where it would save money by allowing small fires to burn out. The fires still require funds for monitoring. Fire suppression accounts for more than half the Forest Service’s budget. This year, the cost projections are surpassing the budgeted amount of $848 million to $1.4 billion. A recent study in the Ecological Society of America’s open access journal Ecosphere noted that 38 percent of the planet will likely see increased fire activity over the next 30 years. For additional information federal drought monitoring efforts, click here. To view the Ecosphere paper, click here. EPA: FEDERAL APPEALS COURT STRIKES DOWN AIR POLLUTION RULE On Aug. 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the Obama administration’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) that forces cuts from plants in 28 states in the eastern half of the country, concluding that it exceeds the Environmental Protection...

Read More

The rising of the sun and the running of the deer

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer In November, Norwegians Arnoldus Schytte Blix, Lars Walløe and Lars Folkow brought us the news that running reindeer cool themselves through open-mouthed panting, as Sara Reardon explains at ScienceNOW. Their heavy winter coats are so effective at insulating the animals from arctic temperatures that they have trouble dumping excess heat through their skin. Deep cooling breaths through their noses aren’t enough when reindeer are working hard. At speed on Blix et al’s treadmill, reindeer tongues loll from open mouths to cool their blood through evaporation, just like hard racing reindeer neck-and-neck in a skijor competition in northern Finland, documented in exciting, goofy, copyrighted detail by photographer Henri Bonell. Do Reindeer bite their giant tongues? “Fortunately they only have bottom incisors, although their molars are sharp so I imagine they avoid closing their mouths until their tongues are safely inside,” said veterinarian Christina Ramirez. Deer have a bony plate in place of top teeth in the very front of their mouths. A big gap separates the few pointy teeth at the front of the bottom jaw from molars in the back. As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks In reindeer (known as caribou in the New World) territory, climactic change is palpably present. Melting permafrost is a vivid symptom. Tilting buildings and falling trees, undermined by the thaw, are big reminders of the invisible frozen soil that underlies much of the arctic and molds geology, ecology and human construction. In a long article in the New York Times, Justin Gillis describes an invisible consequence of melting permafrost: methane, a potent greenhouse gas, emanating from rotting plants released from frozen ground. Microorganisms are busy decomposing leaves and branches that have been on ice for thirty thousand years, producing methane as a byproduct of their gluttony. The US Department of Energy is investing $100 million dollars in an attempt to estimate the amount of carbon frozen in the soil and predict the future of the arctic. A slideshow of working scientists, and beautiful images of methane bubbling up from new Alaskan lake beds and collecting under surface ice, accompanies the article. NOAA’s year of extreme weather: 12 disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it’s been a record year for disastrous weather in the US, with a succession of tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, heatwaves and flooding hitting the country. Re-experience it on their website. 12 Days of Christmas-y Citizen Science Projects The folks at Talking Science, a non-profit partner of NPR’s Science Friday, list twelve ways to participate in research, from sifting data from the Milky Way to counting your (prairie) chickens....

Read More

Are seagrasses buried under urban development?

Seagrass populations are facing major declines in the midst of global climate change and increasing urban development along coasts, according to a study conducted at the request of the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Frederick Short from Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in New Hampshire and colleagues reported that, of the 72 species of known seagrass, 10 species are classified at a higher risk of extinction and 3 qualify as endangered. Seagrass meadows are responsible for many vital functions in marine ecosystems, explained Robert J. Orth from the College of William and Mary and colleagues in a 2006 study. They are directly linked to mangroves, coral reefs, salt marshes and other marine habitats. These meadows provide a haven for species of finfish and shellfish in their juvenile stages. Manatees, dugongs and green sea turtles are also heavily dependent on seagrasses: They provide the primary source of nutrients for these endangered marine animals. Reduction in the area of seagrass coverage available to these endangered species would undoubtedly decrease their already diminishing populations, according to Orth and colleagues. Seagrass is also a large source of carbon, some of which is transported deeper into the ocean, serving as a nutrient source for organisms that live in food-limited environments. Seagrass also captures and holds carbon within its rhizomes, roots and leaves. Much like tropical ecosystems, seagrass meadows serve as biodiversity hotspots, providing shelter and allowing various species to flourish in the nutrient-rich environment. Seagrasses serve as effective bioindicators because changes in their environment can cause changes in their development and ability to serve as filters. According to Orth and colleagues, changes in water quality are easily identified by the health of seagrasses because of their high reliance on light—for example, when a decline in seagrasses is linked to an increase in nutrient deposits from coastal development. The environmental advantages of seagrass can be noted by the after-effects of the “eelgrass wasting disease” of the 1930s: Substantial amounts of seagrass were destroyed on coasts surrounding the North Atlantic Ocean due to the wasting disease and in turn caused alterations in current patterns. Food chains and fisheries were damaged, and sedimentation was negatively affected. Research conducted by Orth and colleagues suggested that, although seagrass species were able to undergo evolutionary adaption during periods of environmental fluctuations, current environmental changes are occurring too rapidly to allow them to adapt. Increases in sea surface temperature, sea level and the frequency of storms, which cause surges and swells, have all played a part in impacting seagrass populations, wrote the researchers. Tsunamis and hurricanes have frayed seagrass communities and in turn affected their ability to provide the ecological...

Read More