ESA Policy News April 21: climate future, Forest Legacy, ESA visits the Hill
Apr21

ESA Policy News April 21: climate future, Forest Legacy, ESA visits the Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. CLIMATE CHANGE: IPCC REAFFIRMS NEED FOR MITIGATION, ADAPTATION MEASURES The Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two new reports in late March and early April that reaffirm climate change is currently affecting natural ecosystems and human well-being around the world. The March 31 report from “Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” stated that we are experiencing the consequences of climate change across all sectors: agriculture, human health, ocean and land ecosystems, and water supplies. The working group found that governments’ measures to combat climate change are not keeping pace with the consequences of climate change. At an IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, 100 governments unanimously approved the report. In Berlin, Germany on April 13 a subsequent IPCC report from “Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change” warned greenhouse gas emissions that push warming above two degrees Celsius will lead to dangerous and costly climate change events. The report stated that worldwide emissions must decline between 40-70 percent below 2010 by the middle of the century to avoid such consequences. The report called for cutting green-house gas emissions from energy production, transportation, infrastructure and business to meet this goal. The Working Group III report was the final contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, titled “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.” The Working Group I report, released in Sept. 2013, outlined the physical science basis of climate change. The larger Fifth Assessment Report will be completed by a synthesis report on track to be finalized in October. For additional information on the Working Group II report, click here. For additional Information on the Working Group III report, click here. ENERGY: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS FY 2015 DOE INVESTMENT PRIORITIES On April 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing reviewing the US Department of Energy’s scientific and technology priorities as outlined in the president’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) took issue with DOE’s investments in renewable energy in comparison to its fossil fuel investments. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) funding would increase by 21.9 percent in the president’s FY 2015 budget. Meanwhile, the Fossil Energy Research and Development account would decrease by 15.4 percent with the brunt of those cuts coming from coal-related activities. “The administration should not pick winners and give subsidies to favored companies that promote uncompetitive technologies,” said Chairman Smith.  “Instead, we should focus our resources on research and development that will produce technologies that will enable alternative energy...

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National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment
Feb12

National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment

Southeast Asia’s R&D performance shoots up through the aughts, eclipsing US A Feb. 11 Capitol Hill briefing orchestrated by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) showcased the board’s latest biannual Science and Engineering Indicators report, which outlines the current state of science investment domestically in the United States as well as internationally among other countries. The briefing was held in a hearing from of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee (Russell 253). The 25 member board sets policy for the NSF and advises the President and Congress on science and engineering. Biannual indictors reports fulfill a statutory mandate to report to Congress and executive agencies on the status of science and engineering, including R&D trends and the demographics of the S&E workforce. Entitled “What the latest Federal data tell us about the US Science and Technology Enterprise,” the briefing spotlighted a number of statistics from the report of interest to policymakers. The report highlighted a shift in the global science landscape with countries such as China and South Korea rapidly eclipsing the United States in their share of worldwide research and development (R&D) investment. Collectively, the information compiled the support helps showcase both the importance science investment plays in economic development and the importance of this investment in maintaining America’s global competitiveness in innovation. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade. The Great Recession (2008-2009) caused declines in R&D expenditures attributable to business R&D, which contributes the largest share of US R&D spending. The NSB report notes that the decrease was partially offset by a one-time bump in federal funding for scientific research included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). According to the report, the US has rebounded better than other developed countries in overall R&D funding. The report also found that science and technology degree holders “weathered” the recession better than other sectors of the US workforce. It also stated that workers in S&E occupations have almost always had lower unemployment than workers in other jobs. In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences. The report also found that tuition and fees for colleges and universities have grown...

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President presses for action on climate, research in 2014 SOTU
Jan29

President presses for action on climate, research in 2014 SOTU

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Policy Analyst and Liza Lester, Communications Officer President Obama’s 5th State of the Union address came after a year where Congress experienced an unprecedented amount of partisan gridlock and the first lengthy government shutdown in nearly 18 years. Consequently, the theme of President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address was a call to action on numerous legislative fronts. The president made clear that 2014 will be a year of action, in not from the legislature, than certainly from the executive. “America does not stand still – and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” said President Obama. The president’s with-you-or-without-you tone received mixed reviews in Congress, currently enjoying a 19 percent approval rating. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) commented that he doesn’t like it, and as a former governor, “I don’t think it works,” at a Wednesday morning debrief, cosponsored by The Atlantic and the National Journal. “Watch this debt ceiling issue” to see how the President’s strategy plays out, he said. But Congressman Aaron Shock (R-IL) saw opportunities to work with the president on transportation infrastructure, tax and immigration reforms, and on fast-tracking international trade agreements. Shock is not in favor of debt ceiling brinksmanship. He challenged his own leadership in the House to recognize a need for bipartisan legislation. “It behooves us to work with pragmatic, centrist Democrats,” he said, during the Wednesday debrief. The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama.  “This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.” A representative of Research America asked Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) this morning about the climate in Congress for working with the President to “fix the damage” to research funding, noting the impact of the sequester on top of several years of stagnant federal science budgets.  DeGette echoed the president’s statement that federally-supported science is a job creator necessary to keep the US at the forefront of science and technology. She feels hopeful that science funding will receive bipartisan support as our economy improves. DeGette, a representative from...

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ESA Policy News: December 20
Dec20

ESA Policy News: December 20

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS APPROVES BILL ON SPENDING LEVELS FOR FY 2014, 2015 In its last major legislative achievement before the holiday recess, Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill (H.J.Res. 59) that sets overall federal spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and 2015. The deal passed the House by a vote of 332-94 and the Senate 64-36. President Obama will sign the measure. The deal allows for $1.012 trillion in federal spending for FY 2014 and $1.013 trillion for FY 2013. The bill partially relieves sequestration for defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs through fee increases and increased pension contributions for federal workers as well as extending existing mandatory spending cuts through FY 2023. The agreement meets about half way between the House Republican proposed budget of $967 billion and the Senate proposed budget of $1.058 trillion. Total deficit reduction in the bill amounts to $85 billion, providing a $45 billion increase in federal spending FY 2014 and $20 billion in FY 2015, equally divided between defense and non-defense discretionary programs. The budget does not allocate funding for specific government agencies and programs, which will be tackled through the appropriations process when lawmakers return in January. The existing continuing resolution to fund the government runs through Jan. 15, 2014. The agreement also does not address the debt ceiling which will need to be raised again in February. Addition information on the agreement is available here. HOUSE: KEY REPUBLICAN ADVOCATE FOR SCIENCE TO RETIRE IN 2014 On Dec. 17, the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced he will retire from Congress at the end of his 17th term. The northern Virginia location of his district led Wolf to be a champion of federal workers, often breaking with his party on matters related to federal worker pay. Most recently, he penned a letter to House and Senate Budget Committee leaders urging them to stop proposing budget cuts that disproportionately impact federal workers. “I cannot, in good conscience, support a budget agreement that asks the federal workforce to once again disproportionately feel the brunt of Washington’s failure to share the pain,” wrote Wolf in a Dec. 3 letter. Rep. Wolf ultimately voted for the budget deal on Dec. 12 when it was considered on the House floor. Wolf has also been an advocate for federal investment in science – specifically the National Science Foundation (NSF), in part out of concern for the US’s leadership in scientific discovery and innovation falling behind other countries such as China. During Chairman Wolf’s...

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Prescribed burns can aid in efforts to reduce severity of wildfires
Nov15

Prescribed burns can aid in efforts to reduce severity of wildfires

Forest fires have a tendency to evoke images of Smoky the Bear warnings or Bambi and company fleeing for their lives. However, often underreported are the benefits prescribed forest fires can have on ecosystems and human communities. This summer, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) published its first online-only special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, which examined the impacts of prescribed burning in North America in addition to several other locations around the world. Prescribed burns are meant to mimic the impact of natural fires, caused by lightning, or the smaller intentional fires traditionally produced by Native Americans. In the last century, fire suppression activities have focused on the protection of property and keeping parks pretty, dramatically diminishing fire frequency throughout the West. As a consequence, ecosystems change. Species that evolved with fire lose their competitive edge. Dense growth fills the forest understory, savannas become forests, and brush clogs grasslands.  When forest fires do occur, they are often more intense, more damaging and more costly to mitigate, thanks to the extra fuel. Prescribed burns reduce fire intensity by reducing tree density in a forest ecosystem. Prescribed burns also curtail the proliferation of fire-sensitive species, helping to promote species diversity in an ecosystem. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Rapid Response Team member Matthew Hurteau discusses his research on wildfires. Hurteau’s research focuses on the various ways in which climate change exacerbates fire risk, due to warming temperatures and longer more frequent droughts. Hurteau explained the benefits of prescribed burns during a visit with policymakers on Capitol Hill. For much of the past ten years, the US Forest Service has had to borrow from other agency accounts in order to cover expenses of mitigating wildfires, which have increased in frequency in recent years. According to testimony before Congress from USFS Chief Tom Tidwell, fire suppression activities as a share of the agency’s total budget has burgeoned from 13 percent in Fiscal Year (FY) 1991 to 40 percent in FY 2012. Given the demonstrated capability of prescribed burns to reduce the risk, and consequently the costly damage, of severe wildfires, implementing such ecologically friendly practices nationwide could not only help save lives and protect natural resources, but also help key natural resource agencies stay on budget. Photo Credit: Steve McKelvey: US Forest...

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White nose syndrome highlights need for sustained investment in research
Oct31

White nose syndrome highlights need for sustained investment in research

As researchers learn more about Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans, the fungus that causes White Nose syndrome in bats, more becomes known about what makes this disease so resilient and seemingly invincible. Various estimates put the bat death toll in the United States in the vicinity of about six million bats since it was first discovered seven years ago. The fungus infects bats during their winter hibernation months when their body temperatures drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). While it is unknown precisely what causes death in the bats, the virus seems to wake the bats amid their hibernation in the middle of winter, when fruit and insects are scarce. In addition to the damaged skin and tell-tale fungus covered white nose, researchers have found the dead bats with empty stomachs, which suggests that they starve to death. A recent study from the University of Illinois aimed at understanding the biology of the White nose syndrome fungus pinpoints the tenacious adaptability of the disease. The study, spearheaded by graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh, found that the fungus can survive a wide range of pH, with the exception of extremely acidic substances, which would be difficult to introduce into a natural environment without contaminating habitat and other life forms. Other than its vulnerability to warm temperatures, the only other weakness reported in the organism is its low ability to take in water from surfaces. The fungus compensates for this weakness, however, with an ability to absorb water from the degraded fats and free fatty acids found in the skin of living and dead animals. But there are signs of hope in the quest to eradicate the disease. This summer, graduate student Chris Cornelison, a microbiologist with Georgia State University, highlighted a study he is working on in conjunction with several research teams that may have discovered a natural bacterium (Rhodococcus rhodochrous strain DAP96253) that could inhibit the fungus without damaging the bats or the caves they inhabit. While early test results have shown promise, Cornelison asserts further study is needed to properly assess potential impacts on the cave ecosystems and the bats themselves. Additionally, scientists with the US Forest Service, in a recent study, identified a close fungal relative to White Nose Syndrome that may help researchers to better genetically map the fungus and better understand how it functions. Another bright spot: recognition of the need to combat White nose syndrome is among the few issues Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree on. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) has noted that bats are worth billions to the agriculture industry due to...

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ESA Policy News: October 24
Oct24

ESA Policy News: October 24

Government shutdown ends, water bill action, FWS proposes cuckoo E.S.A. listing, rejects petrel.

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ESA Policy News October 11
Oct11

ESA Policy News October 11

Research on hold in government shutdown, farm bill (in)action, EPA cleared in email scandal, climate skeptics denied

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