ESA Policy News Jan. 13: Obama SOTU calls for cooperation, FWS rule prohibits salamander importation, USGS Director confirmed
Jan13

ESA Policy News Jan. 13: Obama SOTU calls for cooperation, FWS rule prohibits salamander importation, USGS Director confirmed

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA SOTU REFLECTS ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS, CALLS FOR COOPERATION For his final State of the Union address, President Obama sought a conciliatory and hopeful tone while requesting that Congress allay partisan tensions to reach consensus on advancing his remaining priorities. Regarding his accomplishments and priorities, the president defended his administration’s actions to address climate change and increase investments in renewable energy. “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it,” said Obama. In the final portion of his speech, the president lamented that he had failed to alleviate brinksmanship  between the two parties and called upon Congress and the American people to get engaged in improving discourse and the political process. Click here to read the president’s full State of the Union remarks. FWS: INTERIM RULE WOULD PROHIBIT IMPORTATION OF 201 SALAMANDER SPECIES The US Fish and Wildlife Service published an interim rule that would prohibit the importation and trade of 201 salamander species. The rule is a preemptive effort to prevent the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which has decimated salamander populations in Europe through the pet trade, from spreading to native salamander populations in the United States. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) wrote a letter to the Service in November 2014 requesting the importantion ban. ESA Rapid Response member and amphibian expert, Dr. Karen Lips’ (University of Maryland), research on host-pathogen ecology and Bsal was used to inform the scientific understanding of Bsal’s threat. The agency may grant permits for the importation and transportation of listed species for scientific, medical, educational or zoological purposes. The rule allows owners of listed animals to keep them as states allow but prohibits interstate transport for all animals listed as alive or dead under the rule. The interim rule would take effect on Jan. 28, 2016. Click here for additional information. Click here to read ESA’s letter to FWS. FWS: WEST INDIAN MANATEES RECLASSIFIED UNDER ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT On Jan. 7, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to downgrade its listing of the West Indian manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.” The agency cites “significant improvements in its population and habitat conditions and reductions in direct threats” since the manatees’ listing as the rationale for the reclassification. The Endangered Species...

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ESA Policy News November 11: Science coalitions call for funding boost, NOAA under scrutiny, Obama rejects Keystone
Nov11

ESA Policy News November 11: Science coalitions call for funding boost, NOAA under scrutiny, Obama rejects Keystone

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR REQUESTS SCIENTISTS’ INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS On Nov. 4, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requesting documents and communications between NOAA scientists whose research concludes there has been no pause in global warming. The major climate science study was led by Tom Karl, director of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, that was published in “Science” magazine on June 3. Smith’s investigation into the Karl’s research began in July and escalated through the fall when he wrote multiple letters requesting that NOAA release internal communications between the scientists involved in the study. When NOAA refused the requests, Smith followed up with the warning letter of a subpoena Sept. 25 and subsequently issued a subpoena Oct. 13. Committee Democrats have been critical of Smith’s subpoena, referring to it as a “fishing expedition.” In a response letter to the subpoena, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “The baseless conflict you have created by issuing the October 13 subpoena is representative of a disturbing pattern in your use of congressional power since your chairmanship began. In the past two years and ten months that you have presided as chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology you have issued more subpoenas (six) than were issued in the prior 54-year history of the committee.” Click here to view the Smith letter. Click here to view the subpoena response letter from Ranking Member Johnson. APPROPRIATIONS: SCIENTIFIC COALITIONS REQUEST RESEARCH FUNDING FOR FY 2016 On Nov. 2, a broad group of research coalitions sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators praising the Bipartisan Budget Act 2015 and requesting an increase of at least 5.2 percent for federal programs that support scientific research in FY 2016. “As you allocate the additional funding made available under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, we urge you to make strong investments in America’s innovation ecosystem one of your highest priorities by increasing federal research funding by at least 5.2 percent above FY 2015 levels—the same level of increase to discretionary spending,” the letter states. Congress has until Dec. 11 to work out an agreement that would continue federal funding through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016, which began Oct. 1, 2015. Click here to view the full letter. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATORS URGE PRESIDENT TO OPPOSE ENDANGERED SPECIES RIDERS  Twenty-five US Senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to reject any spending bills that include provisions to undermine...

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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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‘Threatened’ listing for Gunnison sage grouse rouses political scuffle
Nov17

‘Threatened’ listing for Gunnison sage grouse rouses political scuffle

  A pair of Gunnison sage grouse. Credit/US Fish and Wildlife Service The recent US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has ignited a political fervor between the administration, environmentalists and Colorado and Utah policymakers. “While many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act’s protection,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement.  According to FWS, there are only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse left, occupying only seven to 12 percent of the species historical range in Colorado and Utah. Concurrent with publication of the final rule, FWS is designating 1.4 million acres in Colorado and southeastern Utah as critical habitat for the species. The listing was first proposed by the service in Jan. 2013, citing habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human development. The decision has no direct bearing on FWS’s still pending decision to list the related greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as endangered under the ESA, which the agency is evaluating independently. Many agricultural landowners will not be affected by the bird’s new status. Those who have committed to Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances will be in full compliance with the ESA. Participating landowners took steps to improve sage grouse habitat and survival by, for example, removing invasive cheatgrass and putting ramps into stock tanks to help trapped birds escape drowning. Participants in the USDA’s Sage Grouse Initiative, Working Lands for Wildlife, and Conservation Reserve Program will also be in compliance. The threatened listing differs from an endangered listing in that it provides more flexibility to states and allows FWS to issue special rules that either reduce or expand Endangered Species Act protections for a listed species. Nonetheless, the agency’s decision drew accusations of federal government overreach from lawmakers across the ideological spectrum as well as criticism from the environmental advocacy community in favor of stronger protections. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) issued a joint statement, claiming the decision threatens to undermine the conservation work done at the state and local government level to preserve the species. “We are deeply disappointed the US Fish and Wildlife Service chose to ignore the extraordinary efforts over the last two decades by the state, local governments, business leaders and environmentalists to protect the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat,” said Hickenlooper. “This sends a discouraging message to communities willing to take significant actions to protect species and complicates...

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ESA Policy News October 8: Obama designates world’s largest marine reserve, Science committee reviews NSF grants
Oct08

ESA Policy News October 8: Obama designates world’s largest marine reserve, Science committee reviews NSF grants

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA DESIGNATES WORLD’S LARGEST MARINE RESERVE On Sept. 25, President Obama signed a proclamation designating the largest marine reserve in the world off-limits to commercial resource extraction including fishing. The proclamation expands the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to an area 490,000 square miles, six times its current size and fully protects its deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems which are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The move is in line with the administration’s broader National Ocean Policy and its Climate Action Plan. Click here for additional information. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CONTINUES EFFORTS TO REVIEW NSF GRANTS House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) continues to single out National Science Foundation (NSF) peer-reviewed research projects viewed as frivolous or wasteful. Through press releases and direct meetings with NSF officials, the chairman has sought to bring attention to dozens of grants he views as a misuse of taxpayer money. Chairman Smith has also used the legislative process to advance the issue. His bill, H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, includes language requiring the agency to specify how grants funded by the agency serve national economic and security interests. The effort has stirred partisan tensions among members of the traditionally bipartisan committee.  On Sept. 30, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), issued a letter outlining the unprecedented nature of Chairman Smith’s efforts. The letter is only the most recent instance of written correspondence between the two senior members of the committee over NSF’s merit review process. Click here to read the Ranking Member Johnson letter. EPA: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR CLEAN WATER RULE The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending its public comment period until Nov. 14 for its proposed rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of US waterways. This is the second time EPA has extended the rule’s comment period. Recent US Supreme Court decisions, including Rapanos v. United States, have called into question the term “navigable waterway” as defined under the Clean Water Act. The proposed EPA rule would clarify that narrower water bodies such as streams, wetlands and smaller rivers, are under the law’s jurisdiction. Click this link for additional information on the proposed Clean Water rule. HOUSE: CAFETERIAS INSTITUTE BAN ON POLYSTYRENE FOOD CONTAINERS The House cafeteria elected to stop serving food in polystyrene food containers following a letter from House Democrats urging a ban on the containers. The National Research Council affirmed the listing of styrene, the monomer used to create polystyrene packaging, as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Polystyrene was...

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Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California
Sep11

Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California

Datasets from long-running volunteer survey programs, calibrated with data from sporadic intensive monitoring efforts, have allowed ecologists to track the recovery of peregrine falcons in California and evaluate the effectiveness of a predictive model popular in the management of threatened species. In recovery from the deadly legacy of DDT, American peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus anatum) faced new uncertainty in 1992, when biologists proposed to stop rearing young birds in captivity and placing them in wild nests. Tim Wootton and Doug Bell published models that year in Ecological Applications, projecting population trends for the falcon in California, with and without direct human intervention in the falcons’ reproductive lives. They concluded that the birds would continue to recover without captive rearing, though the population growth rate might slow. Fledgling introductions had bolstered wild falcon numbers and genetic diversity, but survival would ultimately depend on cleaning up lingering DDT contamination to create healthy conditions for wild birds, they argued. This month, they return to their 1992 predictions to see how the American peregrine falcons have fared over the last two decades, with a new report featured on the cover of the September 2014 issue of Ecological Applications. Though falcon numbers are lower than hoped for, data from volunteer survey programs, calibrated with more intensive surveys by wildlife biologists, confirmed a recovery trajectory well within the trends Wootton and Bell predicted. “The challenge was to come up with data,” said Wootton. “Once a species falls off the endangered species list, there is not a lot of funding to track how management, or lack of management, is doing,” he said. “There was limited data that was appropriate being collected on the falcon, so we turned to a couple of well-known bird censuses that cover wide geographic areas.” The follow-on study provided insights in the use of volunteer-generated data as well as an important test of population viability analysis, a tool increasingly used to evaluate alternative management plans and identify conservation priorities for endangered species, including sea turtles, grizzlies, and desert tortoises. It supported the importance of considering the health and behavior of geographic groups of a threatened species within a larger population. The 1992 paper identified falcon population “sinks” in parts of Southern California where chemical contamination lingered and the birds could not maintain numbers without migrants from healthier areas. Unfortunately, the falcon’s recovery has continued to lag in these areas. Once widespread across North America, the world’s fastest bird had disappeared from the east by mid-century and was near extinction on the continent by 1975, when a survey found only 159 breeding pairs of American peregrine falcons. Chicks often did not survive to...

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Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms
Apr03

Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms

Wildfire is the predominant cause of habitat loss in the Great Basin. Reseeding burned land to stabilize soils has not restored sagebrush habitat for the endangered greater sage grouse, according to a report in the journal Ecosphere. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering protecting the grouse under the Endangered Species act, which could affect the management of 250,000 square miles of land in the western US.

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ESA Policy News, March 28, 2014: NSF funding reviewed, new climate change intiatives, EPA releases draft water rule
Apr02

ESA Policy News, March 28, 2014: NSF funding reviewed, new climate change intiatives, EPA releases draft water rule

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CJS SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING DRAWS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR NSF RESEARCH On March 27, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science and Related Agencies (CJS) held a hearing examining the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request. The hearing is among the last duties of Cora Marrett attending in her current capacity as acting director of NSF before she hands the reins over to the new NSF Director France Cordova, confirmed by the Senate on March 12. “The subcommittee is a big supporter of basic research, both [Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA)] and myself, which enables innovative discoveries that boost our economy, improve our national security and answer fundamental questions about the world,” said CJS Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). “As a result, we have worked hard to ensure NSF receives adequate support even in times of fiscal restraint. In fact, with the exception of Fiscal Year 2013, when sequestration unfortunately produced across the board reductions, we have increased NSF’s research budget every year for the past decade.” Chairman Wolf expressed concern, however, over NSF’s main research account, which would decrease under the president’s budget and for the consequences of such a decrease on areas such as advanced manufacturing cyber-security and cyber-infrastructure. Acting Director Marrett shared Wolf’s concern while noting the current fiscal restraints that the administration is operating under in view of existing overall discretionary spending limits set by the Murray-Ryan budget agreement for FY 2014-2015. Marrett expressed interest in working with Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah to address any perceived shortcomings in the existing budget request. View the full committee hearing here. BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE HEARING PROMPTS DISCUSSION OVER NSF TRANSPARENCY A March 26 House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal included discussion over research grants funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and whether there is presently adequate accountability and transparency at the agency. House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) questioned Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren about NSF grants funding a “climate change musical,” and studies of fishing practices around Lake Victoria in Africa, the ecological consequences of early human-set fires, and causes of stress in Bolivia, among others. The committee recently approved H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, which would require NSF to describe why grants they fund are in the national interest. The Ecological Society of America has joined with the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in...

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