Building resillience to extreme weather
Dec01

Building resillience to extreme weather

Between 1980 and 2004, extreme weather cost the world an estimated US$1.4 trillion and much loss of life. Climate change is expected to exacerbate flooding, drought, and other weather hazards. Population growth in regions expected to be hard hit by extreme weather will expose more people to risk. Communities can take steps to build resiliency, say scientists in a Royal Society report released Thursday, November 26, 2014. Mitigating future weather events can be achieved through cooperation at local, state, and international scales. Resiliency means preparing for the unexpected as well as specific disasters, focusing on reducing consequences of infrastructure failure rather than attempting to achieve and rely on perfect protection. The report recommends that planners address systems comprehensively, looking all hazards together. Recommendations include financial system changes and ecological, ‘ecosystem-based adaptations as well as large infrastructure projects. “We need to make sure that large-scale engineering isn’t making us too complacent,” said former ESA President Nancy Grimm, a member of the report’s working group and a professor at Arizona State University. “In the developed world we have been heavily reliant on some key large scale pieces of engineering, which have been pushed to their limits during recent events. By using a combination of engineering and more natural approaches we can make sure that we accept occasional small ‘failures’ while limiting the detrimental impact of a large, catastrophic event. We call this a safe-to-fail approach.” “Resilience to Extreme Weather” report, interactive charges, and methodology are available on the Royal Society’s website. text...

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ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015
Nov19

ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  FOREIGN AFFAIRS: US, CHINA REACH AGREEMENT ON CARBON EMISSION REDUCTIONS On Nov. 12, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement that aims to set the US and China on a path to dramatically reducing their carbon emissions. The United States will cut its emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2025. China agreed to “peak” its emissions by 2030 and will work to meet that goal earlier. China has also set a target to expand use of non-carbon emitting energy sources to 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2030. The breakthrough is pivotal as China previously resisted calls to cap its emissions. The Obama administration declared the reduction goals can be met “under existing law,” without approval from Congress. However, Congress could block funding for the effort using the appropriations process. It appears likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try. This could pose problems for the president’s subsequent pledge of $3 billion (USD) for the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to address the ramifications of climate change in developing nations. Click here for additional information on the agreement. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR QUESTIONS ‘TRUTHY’ NSF STUDY On Nov. 10, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Cordova requesting information on the agency’s decision to fund research into the spread through social media of ideas and memes, including political commentary and campaign messaging. The study in question, entitled “Truthy,” is a multi-year research project by the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. The name is derived from the term “truthiness,” coined by political comedian, Stephen Colbert for information that feels like truth. The authors apply the term to social media messages from bots [programs] that seem to come from real people and sponsored messages that seem to come from grassroots movements. According to the University of Indiana project website, one of the goals of the study is to “develop machine learning and visual analytics tools that could aid people in recognizing misinformation such as harmful rumors, smear campaigns, astroturfing, and other social media abuse.” Chairman Smith contends that the project singles out conservative messaging tactics and threatens free speech. The day Chairman Smith issued the letter; the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a statement on his committee’s continued inquires into NSF grants. Click here to view the AAU statement. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s letter. Click here to view the author’s response. Click here to link to the ‘Truthy’ study website. HOUSE: REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE NAMES NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS...

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ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible
Nov05

ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SENATE: ELECTIONS, RETIREMENTS SHAKE UP KEY SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITTEES On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds). Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community. Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member. Appropriations Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Commerce, Science and Transportation Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member. The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities...

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ESA Policy News October 22: White House focuses on climate resiliency, NSF accepting Ebola research proposals, enviros sue to protect Wolverine
Oct22

ESA Policy News October 22: White House focuses on climate resiliency, NSF accepting Ebola research proposals, enviros sue to protect Wolverine

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: NEW CLIMATE STRATEGY PROMOTES NATURAL RESOURCE RESILIENCY The White House released a new resiliency-focused strategy to protect natural resources from threats posed by climate change. The “Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda” focuses on building climate change resilience through various means including enhancing US carbon sinks such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastal areas. The administration announced five executive actions and 16 public-private partnerships to complement this agenda. The overall strategy is the latest effort in the administration’s Climate Action Plan. Click here for additional information. DEFENSE: PENTAGON REPORT NAMES CLIMATE CHANGE AS A THREAT MULTIPLIER On Oct. 13, the Department of Defense released a 20-page report outlining the federal agency’s efforts to address climate change. The report specifies how the military will prepare for the consequences of climate change and its impacts on national security. “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe, “ the report notes. “In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism.” Click here to view the full report. ENDANGERED SPECIES: SENATORS REQUEST WITHDRAWAL OF CRITICAL HABITAT RULES Four Republican Senators penned a letter to the Obama administration requesting the withdrawal of proposed rules intended to clarify the process of designating critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. The Senators are concerned that the new proposals will allow federal agencies to designate critical habitat for areas not currently used by endangered species. Proponents for endangered species agree that critical habitat is the key to survival. Critical habitat provides protections for listed species by prohibiting federal agencies from permitting, funding, or carrying out actions that “adversely modify” designated areas without first consulting the federal entity that designates and monitors the habitat. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) and Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) spearheaded the letter. Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) and Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL) also signed the letter. Click here to view the full letter. FWS: ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS FILE LAWSUIT TO PROTECT WOLVERINE A coalition of eight environmental groups is suing the US Fish and Wildlife...

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The role of ecology in natural resource management decision-making
Oct20

The role of ecology in natural resource management decision-making

Science has an important role to play in helping to inform policy decisions that affect management of ecosystems and natural resources. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Amber Childress (Colorado State University) discusses her experiences informing natural resource management decisions with science. Childress’s ecological research focuses on how water providers have adapted to droughts in the past and how to adjust natural resource management strategies to deal with future challenges brought on by climate change. Her studies specifically focus on water resources along the South Platte River Basin in Colorado. Childress also contributed to a technical report for the third National Climate Assessment (NCA) that gauged climate change impacts in the Great Plains region. The NCA uses the latest scientific evidence to further understanding of how climate change is impacting communities across the United States. “Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast,” the NCA report notes. “Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.” For the Great Plains states, the NCA report found “climate related challenges are expected to involve 1) resolving increasing competition among land, water, and energy resources; 2) developing and maintaining sustainable agricultural systems; 3) conserving vibrant and diverse ecological systems; and 4) enhancing the resilience of the region’s people to the impacts of climate extremes.” Scientific research has also been critical in the promulgation of strategies to monitor and respond to costly natural disaster events, including hurricanes and floods. The need to develop new strategies for various natural resource management activities will only grow as frequencies of drought, torrential storms, flooding, wildfires continue to grow as a consequence of climate change. It is important that scientists continue to engage with policymakers and natural resource managers at all levels of government to help ensure communities can understand and aptly respond to present and future environmental challenges. Photo Credit:...

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ESA Policy News August 7: Science groups oppose travel bill, White House outlines climate change costs
Aug07

ESA Policy News August 7: Science groups oppose travel bill, White House outlines climate change costs

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.    GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES OPPOSE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS BILL The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among 70 research organizations that signed a letter expressing concern with legislation moving in the Senate that would impose restrictions on the ability of government scientists and engineers to participate in scientific conferences. On July 30th, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The approved legislation includes language proposed by the bill’s sponsor that would add additional limits to existing travel policy regulations imposed on government employees in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal. It passed the committee by voice vote. The bill includes language prohibiting a federal agency from expending funds on “not more than one conference that is sponsored or organized by a particular organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor and organizer of the conference.” In addition to this letter, ESA also submitted a letter on the importance of scientific conferences to the committee earlier this year. Read the scientific societies letter by clicking this link. View the January ESA letter by clicking this link. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR, EPA FUNDING BILL On August 1st, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill provides $30.7 billion for the US Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Forest Service, slightly higher than the $30.2 billion provided in the House version of the bill. Funding levels are as follows for selected agencies: EPA: $8.2 billion, an $18 million decrease below FY 2014. The Senate bill would increase funding for climate-related activities by $9.8 million over FY 2014. This amount includes $8.8 million to implement the president’s Climate Action Plan. Science and technology programs at EPA would receive $752.88 million, a $6.3 million decrease.  Office of Surface Mining: $144.8 million; a $5 million decrease below FY 2014. Bureau of Land Management: $1.113 billion; a $6 million increase above FY 2014. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $72.4 million, a $3.4 million increase above FY 2014. National Park Service: $2.632 billion; a $71 million increase above FY 2014. US Forest Service: $4.626 billion; an $853.5 million decrease below FY 2014. The bill designates $2.171 billion to be shared by the US Forest Service and the Department of Interior for wildland fire suppression activities. US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.451 billion; a $23 million increase over FY 2014. US Geological Survey: $1.046 billion; a $14 million increase above FY 2014. Smithsonian...

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Pikas act as ‘climate indicators’
Aug01

Pikas act as ‘climate indicators’

The Oscar-winning Disney movie “Frozen” includes a living snowman character named Olaf that would melt and die under the 70 degree temperatures humans and many other animals prefer. Of course, there are a number of species in the animal kingdom sensitive to heat conditions humans generally find preferable. Some of these are fellow mammals , but not all, are limited to the extreme cold Arctic and Antarctic climates. At home in loose rock areas in alpine and subalpine mountain regions, American pikas are one such species. Though they bear a resemblance to rodents, pikas are actually members of the lagomorpha order, which includes rabbits and hares. Their North American range includes British Columbia in Canada and the US states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Much like the Disney’s Olaf, pikas cannot endure the mid-to-upper 70s temperatures we humans deem comfortably warm for more than a short period.  In fact, pikas would die if exposed to temperatures above 77 degrees for longer than six hours. Alas, the thick-furry coats that keep them snug through a cold-mountain winter prevent them from ever taking in the rays on a warm summer day at the beach. This heat intolerance largely prevents their existence below 8,202 feet in the regions of New Mexico, Nevada and southern California. And yet, this distinct temperature sensitivity makes them interesting specimens for studying the profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2014 Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award winner Johanna Varner (University of Utah) discusses her research into pikas and their importance as climate indicators. A recent study found that extinction rates for American pikas have increased five-fold in the last 10 years while the rate at which the pikas are moving up mountain slopes has increased 11-fold. The US Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in 2010 that the American pika does not warrant Endangered Species Act protection, but this could change if this population decline significantly worsens. Luckily, some pikas have proven to be adaptable in their foraging mannerisms. One population of pikas in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge have adapted to warming temperatures by increasingly eating (and re-ingesting) moss.  Eating moss, which grows in the shadier parts of the animal’s habitat, helps the pikas avoid the blistering (deadly in their case) summer sun while also helping minimize their becoming a victim of predation. Aside from their obvious appeal as “charismatic fauna”, deserving of Disney characterizations in their own right, some might question why research into preserving pikas is important. As Varner notes in the podcast,...

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ESA Policy News July 25: Senators review EPA power plant rules, rural CA receives drought relief, ESA to aid Interior science group
Jul25

ESA Policy News July 25: Senators review EPA power plant rules, rural CA receives drought relief, ESA to aid Interior science group

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  EPA: MCCARTHY TESTIFIES BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEE ON CLEAN POWER PLAN A recent Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing offered US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy her first opportunity to testify before Capitol Hill legislators on her agency’s Clean Power Plan. The proposed rule in the EPA plan falls under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels. “The President’s plan is a win-win for the American people, because by addressing climate change through carbon pollution reduction, we can cut many types of air pollutants that also threaten human health,” stated EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Climate change and rising temperatures will lead to increased ground level ozone and smog which could worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma, increased air pollutants from wildfires, and more heat-related and flood-related deaths.” While Chairwoman Boxer other committee Democrats were supportive of the rule, committee Republicans put Administrator McCarthy on the defensive, questioning EPA’s authority to implement the carbon rules as well as the level of consensus behind the science that prompted them. Some, such as Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MI), denied that global temperatures have been on the rise in recent decades. In her testimony, McCarthy emphasized that individual states will have flexibility in designing their own compliance strategy for adhering to the carbon-reduction rules. She also noted the many economic benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan. View the full hearing here. EPA: SENATE REPUBLICANS INTRODUCE ‘SECRET SCIENCE’ BILL On July 16th, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation that would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing regulations based on science that is not reproducible. S. 2613, the Secret Science Reform Act, would effectively restrict the quality and quantity of research data that the agency can utilize to inform its regulatory efforts. EPA states that much of the data (including public health records) is confidential. The bill’s seven original cosponsors include Republicans Mike Crapo (ID), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), James Inhofe (OK), James Risch (ID) and David Vitter (LA). Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts, are largely opposed to the measure. The Ecological Society of America recently joined a number of scientific organizations in cosigning a letter outlining a number of unintended negative consequences implementation of the legislation would have on scientific research at the EPA. The organizational letter will be sent to House leadership and the Senate EPW Committee next week. USDA: RURAL...

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