ESA Policy News June 1: House energy bill restricts climate research, FY 2017 Interior bill cuts conservation funding, science committee convenes Zika hearing
Jun01

ESA Policy News June 1: House energy bill restricts climate research, FY 2017 Interior bill cuts conservation funding, science committee convenes Zika hearing

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  ENERGY: HOUSE PASSES BILL THAT RESTRICTS CLIMATE, ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH On May 25, the House passed S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act. The bill passed by a vote of 241-178. Eight Democrats joined all but six Republicans in supporting the measure. S. 2012 passed the Senate April 20, 2016 by a strong bipartisan vote of 85-12. The House used “an amendment in the nature of a substitute” to replace the Senate-passed text with the language of a more partisan House energy bill, H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015. The White House released a statement threatening to veto H.R. 8 in Nov. 2015, stating it would undercut efforts to increase the nation’s energy efficiency. The House language includes a number of restrictions on scientific research, particularly related to the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Biological and Environment Research (BER) program. The House legislation would authorize funding for BER 9.7 percent ($59 million) below the FY 2016 appropriated level. The legislation would also prevent BER from carrying out climate science research that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identifies as “overlapping or duplicative.” Further, the legislation would also require BER to “prioritize fundamental research on biological systems and genomics science” over “climate and environmental research.”   ESA submitted a letter to the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting that the cuts and restrictions to scientific research included in the House bill not be included in legislation negotiated between the two chambers. Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 8. APPROPRIATIONS: FY 2017 INTERIOR BILL CUTS FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ENTITIES On May 24, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. As in recent years, the bill includes several provisions that would prohibit funding for Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives. The bill funds wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.9 billion – fully funding the 10-year average for federal agency wildland fire suppression costs. The committee report outlining funding for wildfire specific accounts between the Department of Interior and US Forest Service has yet to be released. Of the $5.3 billion appropriated for the US Forest Service, $2.9 billion is targeted towards wildland fire suppression and prevention activities. EPA would receive $7.98 billion, $164 million less than the FY 2016 enacted level. Policy riders to prohibit the agency from implementing new regulations for greenhouse gas emissions, methane, mining and navigable...

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Mangy wolves suffer hefty calorie drain on cold, windy winter nights
Mar30

Mangy wolves suffer hefty calorie drain on cold, windy winter nights

An unwelcome dieting plan: severe mange infection could increase a wolf’s body heat loss by around 1240 to 2850 calories per night, which is roughly 60-80 percent of the average wolf’s daily caloric needs. During winter, wolves infected with mange can suffer a substantial amount of heat loss compared to those without the disease, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners, published as an Accepted Article (preprint release of the accepted manuscipt) yesterday in ESA’s journal Ecology. The lost calories equal about two to four extra pounds of elk meat per day, said lead author Paul Cross. “By definition, parasites drain energy from their hosts. In this study we estimated just one portion of the energetic costs of infection,” said Cross. “Even when parasites do not kill their hosts they are affecting the energy demands of their hosts, which could alter consumption rates, food web dynamics, predator-prey interactions and scavenger communities.” Sarcoptic mange, present in one of 10 known packs in Yellowstone as of 2015, is a skin disease caused by a mite that burrows into the skin, causing irritation and scratching that then leads to hair loss. In the early 1900s, the Montana state wildlife veterinarian introduced mange to the Northern Rockies  in an attempt to help eradicate local wolf and coyote populations. Using a remotely triggered thermal camera to capture vivid and colorful images, Cross and colleagues gathered body temperature data from mange-infected gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and compared that to a sample group of healthy captive wolves with shaved patches of fur to simulate mange-induced hair loss. Using these data, they quantified the level of heat loss, or energetic costs, during the winter months. Read a summary of the research from the USGS or check out the research article: Cross, P., Almberg, E., Haase, C., Hudson, P., Maloney, S., Metz, M., Munn, A., Nugent, P., Putzeys, O., Stahler, D., Stewart, A. and Smith, D. (2016), Energetic costs of mange in wolves estimated from infrared thermography. Ecology. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1890/15-1346.1...

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ESA Policy News Feb. 3: Policymakers react to Flint water crisis, ESA selects 2016 GSPA winners, ESA Past president honored
Feb03

ESA Policy News Feb. 3: Policymakers react to Flint water crisis, ESA selects 2016 GSPA winners, ESA Past president honored

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  EPA: FLINT WATER CRISIS GETS ATTENTION FROM WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS On Jan. 16, the president signed an official state of emergency declaration for Flint Michigan in light of the city’s drinking water crisis. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the region of Genesee County, MI. In January, House Energy and Commerce Committee members sent a bipartisan letter to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting a briefing on the water crisis in Flint, MI. The letter was led by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Environment and Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NJ). On Feb. 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee became the first congressional committee to hold a hearing on the Flint water crisis. Click here to view the congressional hearing. Click here to view the White House statement on the emergency declaration. Click here to view the House letter.   PUBLIC HEALTH: ZIKA VIRUS DECLARED INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY On Feb. 1, leaders of the World Health Organization declared the spread of the Zika virus as a global health emergency and predicted as many as four million cases expected across Central and South America. Human migration, climate change, and urbanization are cited as factors that may contribute to the spread of these diseases. Rising global temperatures and longer periods of warm weather aide both mosquito breeding cycles and the expansion of their geographical range. Human communities provide multiple sources of standing water that serve as breeding grounds for the insects, which include flower pots and drainage ditches. Click here to view a White House fact sheet on the Zika virus.   NSF: NSB REPORT HIGHLIGHTS INTERNATIONAL TRENDS IN RESEARCH INVESTMENT On Jan. 19, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report. The report highlights United States lead throughout the world in its investment in research and development (R&D), but notes that China, South Korea, and India are rapidly increasing their investments. According to the report, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D. The United States accounts for 27 percent of global R&D. China leads the United States as the world’s number one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science. China graduates 49 percent of science bachelor’s degrees, compared to 33 percent of bachelor’s science degrees...

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New diseases travel on the wings of birds in a rapidly changing north
Dec02

New diseases travel on the wings of birds in a rapidly changing north

When wild birds are a big part of your diet, opening a freshly shot bird to find worms squirming around under the skin is a disconcerting sight. That was exactly what Victoria Kotongan saw in October, 2012, when she set to cleaning two of four spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) she had taken near her home in Unalakleet, on the northwest coast of Alaska. The next day, she shot four grouse and all four harbored the long, white worms. In two birds, the worms appeared to be emerging from the meat. Kotongan, worried about the health of the grouse and the potential risk to her community, reported the parasites to the Local Environmental Observer Network, which arranged to have the frozen bird carcasses sent to a lab for testing. Lab results identified the worms as the nematode Splendidofilaria pectoralis, a thinly described parasite previously observed in blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus pallidus) in interior British Columbia, Canada. The nematode had not been seen before so far north and west. Though S. pectoralis is unlikely to be dangerous to people, other emerging diseases in northern regions are not so innocuous. Animals are changing their seasonal movements and feeding patterns to cope with the changing climate, bringing into close contact species that rarely met in the past. Nowhere is this more apparent than the polar latitudes, where warming has been fastest and most dramatic. Red foxes are spreading north into arctic fox territory. Hunger is driving polar bears ashore as sea ice shrinks. Many arctic birds undertake long migratory journeys and have the mobility to fly far beyond their historical ranges, or extend their stay in attractive feeding or nesting sites. With close contact comes a risk of infection with the exotic parasites and microorganisms carried by new neighbors, and so disease is finding new territory as well. Clement conditions extend the lifecycles of disease carrying insects, and disease-causing organisms. Migratory birds can take infectious agents for rides over great distances. In November 2013, Alaska Native residents of St. Lawrence Island, in the Bering Sea, alerted wildlife managers to the deaths of hundreds of crested auklets, thick-billed murres, northern fulmars and other seabirds, caused by an outbreak of highly contagious avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida). “It’s the first time avian cholera has shown up in Alaska,” said Caroline Van Hemert, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “St. Lawrence Island is usually iced in by November, but last year we had a warm fall and winter in Alaska. We don’t know for sure that open water, climate, and high-densities of birds contributed to the outbreak, but it coincided with unusual...

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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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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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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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Social science in action

By Nadine Lymn, director of public affairs Social scientists have been weathering repeated attacks lately from congressional leaders deriding  the value and validity of their work. The scientific community has responded.   The Ecological Society of America is one of several scientific societies serving as a collaborator to show support for social science and its contributions to other fields and to society. A new initiative of the National Academy’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences in Action (SBSIA) aims to “raise awareness of the vitality, validity, and value of the social and behavioral sciences to the scientific enterprise, to public policy, and to the nation’s well-being…” Earlier this week, a symposium, held at the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the key role social science plays in national security, medicine and engineering.  Biologist Rita Colwell, health policy analyst Lucian Leape, national security psychologist Robert Fein and mechanical engineer John Lee were among the speakers who highlighted how social science is integral to their work. Colwell said that without her social scientist colleagues, she would have had neither the access nor the success in reaching the 150,000 individuals in 50 villages in Bangladesh to tamp down the incidence of cholera.  This social-biological collaboration reduced cholera by 50 percent in three years.   The insights provided by a social scientists opened the way to reach these communities, said Colwell.  The social scientists developed the questionnaire with local mores in mind, knowing what questions would and would not be appropriate in the region.  They understood the cultural practices and environmental views of the local people and selected families to participate in the study. “It would have been a tragedy” said Colwell, if the scientists had missed the chance to help so many people who were suffering and dying from this disease.  Colwell has studied cholera for 40 years and she and colleagues knew that it can be dramatically curtailed by filtering water through sari cloths folded five times.  Cholera—which is often fatal—is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the environment and is associated with a tiny zooplankton called a copepod.  Filter out the copepod and you’ve also filtered out the cholera bacterium, along with a host of other water-borne bacteria and viruses. Women in the rural villages of Bangladesh are the ones who educate the family and are therefore key to addressing the problem—Colwell and her fellow researchers  in essence trained the women to be extension agents who learned how to filter the water and then shared this technique with others.  When Colwell and colleagues did a follow-up study five years later, they found that a significant proportion of women were...

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