ESA Policy News: June 8

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILL  On June 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill funds the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior water programs for the fiscal year (FY) 2013. It passed by a vote of 255-165 with 48 Democrats joining all but 29 Republicans in supporting the bill. In total, the bill funds the aforementioned federal agencies at $32 billion, an overall increase of $87.5 million in spending over the current fiscal year. The Obama administration, however, has pledged to veto the bill as it is part of an overall Republican budget effort to decrease spending by $19 billion for FY 2013. The administration reasons that the increase in this bill as well as a recently approved veterans’ appropriations bill, will lead to funding cuts for other appropriations bills that have not yet been taken up, which include Interior, Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development and Labor Health Human Services and Education. For information on specific programmatic funding levels in the House and Senate Energy and Water bills, see the May 4 edition of ESA Policy News. For additional details on the House-passed bill, click here. View the Obama administration statement of administration policy on H.R. 5325 here. AIR POLLUTION: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA’S COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES On June 6, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “EPA’s Impact on Jobs and Energy Affordability: Understanding the Real Costs and Benefits of Environmental Regulations.” The hearing sought to weigh the costs and benefits of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) questioned EPA’s methods. “Our witnesses today will describe a pattern of scientific and economic practices at EPA and OIRA that inflates health-based regulatory benefits, overlooks actual economic, energy affordability, and jobs impacts, and fails to reflect uncertainty in communicating risks.  All too often, major EPA regulations have been underpinned by secret science, hidden data, and black box models,” he stated. “More and more of these regulations are almost exclusively justified on the basis of incidental “co-benefits” from particulate matter reductions, raising the specter of double-counting, and private benefits on the assumption that all regulated entities are acting irrationally and against their economic self-interest and that EPA knows what is best for their bottom line.” Democrats criticized the format of the hearing, in which...

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The American alligator and its importance to the Florida Everglades

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Critics of the Endangered Species Act have sought to brand it as unsuccessful saying that only one percent of species listed have fully recovered and been delisted since it was first enacted. In response, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) released a report entitled “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife,” documenting the successful recovery of federally protected species. The study notes that, on average, it takes species several decades from their initial listing to fully recover. The CBD report concludes that 90 percent of species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act are on track to meet recovery goals set by federal scientists. A noteworthy success story among the “one percent” is the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). The American alligator was first listed as endangered in 1967, due to poorly regulated hunting and habitat loss. It was among the landmark “Class of ’67,” the first class of 78 species to warrant federal protection under the precursor to the existing endangered species law. Delisting of the alligator species began in 1975 in certain parts of Louisiana and it was delisted throughout the remainder of the South by 1987. Among the last remnants from the age of the dinosaurs, this reptile is the central focus of study for Adam Rosenblatt, one of this year’s three Ecological Society of America (ESA) Graduate Student Policy Award winners. Adam Rosenblatt discusses his research on the American alligator and its importance to the Florida Everglades in a recent edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast. Rosenblatt, a Ph.D. student at Florida International University, has been researching this animal through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, which is part of the Long Term Ecological Research Network, established by the National Science Foundation in 1980. As the top predator of the Everglades, says Rosenblatt, alligators have a large impact on the ecosystem through their interactions with and consumption of other animals. He notes that in addition to its importance to recreation and tourism, the Everglades are the primary drinking source for South Floridians. Perhaps the greatest contribution the alligator makes to the ecosystem and its inhabitants are ‘gator holes’ that adults create and expand year by year. These submerged depressions tend to stay full of water throughout the dry season and even extended droughts, providing critical sustenance for fish, insects, snakes, turtles, birds and other wildlife that inhabits the ecosystem. Thus, sustaining the prevalence of the wild American Alligator population is critical for sustaining the Florida Everglades and all the life, humans included, that depend on...

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ESA Policy News: May 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS NOAA, RESEARCH INITIATIVES On May 10, the House passed H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other agencies. The bill passed by a vote of 247-163 with 23 Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the measure. Democrats supporting the measure included House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA). In total, the bill provides $51.1 billion in funding for FY 2013, $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 million below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The White House has released a statement of administration policy declaring that President Obama will veto the bill, if it is presented to him in its current form. The administration asserts that the bill’s overall funding level violates those set by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), agreed to in August of last year, and says  that the cuts included in the bill will be a detriment in furthering “economic growth, security, and global competitiveness” for the nation. While applauding the funding for the Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the $7.3 billion funding level for NSF, the White House says that significant funding cuts to NOAA would adversely affect the agency’s ability to implement the nation’s fisheries and oceans stewardship programs. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate CJS bill approved in committee last month.  For additional background on the House and Senate CJS appropriations bills, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News. To view the full White House statement of administration policy on the House CJS appropriations bill, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS POTENTIAL OF OIL SHALE DEVELOPMENT On May 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “American Jobs and the Economy through Expanded Energy Production:  Challenges and Opportunities of Unconventional Resources Technology.” “The amount of energy under own soil is striking.  With continued technological advances and the right policies to enable access to these resources, America could become the global leader in energy production for the next generation and beyond,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “The Green River Basin, located in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, may contain up to three trillion barrels of oil, more potential oil than the rest of the world’s current oil reserves...

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Animal Jurisprudence

AFTER co-authoring a 2005 paper imagining “Re-wilding North America” with giant Bolson tortoises, camels, horses, cheetahs, elephants and lions, Harry Greene received a lot of hate mail. Corresponding ecologists hated the idea of deliberate transcontinental introductions of any kind.

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Efforts to mitigate white-nose syndrome continue amid new reports

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  In recent weeks, federal scientists have reported that the fungal disease Geomyces destructans, commonly known as white-nose syndrome, has extended its reach across the eastern region of the United States. On March 29, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced that the disease was reported in Fort Delaware State Park, and reports have also confirmed the disease in Maine’s Acadia National Park, and Alabama’s Russell Cave in Jackson County, the first observations of the disease in these states. The National Park Service also reported that the disease has spread to the Great Smoky Mountain region in Tennessee, home to eleven bat species including the largest hibernating population of the endangered Indiana bat in the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), white-nose syndrome has killed 5.7-6.7 million bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2006. The disease is identified by a white fungus visible on the noses, wings, tails and ears of bats. While it is communicable among bats, it has not been found to infect humans. The fungus thrives in cold temperatures and is found mainly in areas with caves and mines where bats hibernate. The disease has drawn bipartisan concern from Capitol Hill, as insect-eating bats play a vital economic role in cutting pesticide costs to the nation’s farming industry. During a June 2011 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs hearing on the disease, Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) pointed out that the bats are worth billions the agricultural industry and that 80 different medicines come from plants that are dependent on bats. The consensus support from Congress has led to increased investment in understanding and managing the disease. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) provides $4 million to the Department of Interior’s Endangered Species Recovery Fund towards research and management of white-nose syndrome. The Act also contains specific language directing the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and FWS to prioritize research and response activities related to curtailing spread of the disease. Non-governmental organizations such as the Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International are also working to conserve bat populations and halt the spread of the disease. Additional information on federal efforts to manage white-nose syndrome as well as updates on new reports of the disease can be found here. Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife...

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ESA Policy News: March 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: FY 2013 BUDGET PROPOSAL CUTS INNOVATION, FEDERAL WORKFORCE On March 20, House Republicans unveiled their proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Sponsored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the budget bill sets an overall discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion in FY 2013, $19 billion below the spending caps established in the Budget Control Act. Among its provisions, the House budget resolution includes significant cuts to Department of Energy programs while expanding oil and gas drilling. It also supports the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal lands identified in a 1997 Department of Interior report that were deemed suitable for sale or exchange to benefit the Everglades restoration effort in Florida. The White House released a statement asserting that the Ryan plan would cut clean energy programs by 19 percent and slash $100 billion from science, space and technology programs over the next decade. The budget also proposes to cut the federal government workforce by 10 percent, providing $368 billion in savings. Under the proposal, federal employee retirement contributions would also rise from 0.8 percent to 6.3 percent. The bill would also extend the current federal pay freeze to 2015. View the full FY 2013 House budget proposal here. The White House response to the House budget proposal can be viewed here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA MERCURY STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS On March 20, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety met for a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury rules for power plants. EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide on Dec. 16, 2011. “I believe it’s possible to have a clean environment and a strong economy. I think it’s a false choice to say that we have to have one or the other; we can have both. That is especially true for cleaning up our air pollution,” declared Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) in his opening statement. “In fact, as the EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, our nation’s air has gotten cleaner, while electricity rates have stayed constant and our economy has grown by 60 percent. For every dollar we spend cleaning the air, we’ve seen $30 returned in reduced health care costs, better workplace productivity, and lives saved.” Subcommittee Ranking Member James...

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Emerging Issues Symposium II: Amid Search for Answers, a Search for Hope

This post contributed by Celia Smith, ESA Education Programs Coordinator Attendees of the Ecological Society of America (ESA)’s 2012 Emerging Issues Conference are spending the week of February 27 immersed in symposia and intensive working groups to turn cutting-edge ecology research into concrete environmental management and policy products. In addressing the conference theme of Conservation Targets under Global Change, each presentation and discussion session involves wrestling with tough questions for which simple answers do not exist. Despite these challenges, another informal conference theme is hope. Global change can evoke fear, panic and even despair over the unsustainable use of natural resources. While it can’t be denied that problems including  overpopulation, pollution, habitat fragmentation and climate change threaten many species, including our own,  Ronald Swaisgood of the San Diego Zoo argues that hope is not only possible—it is essential to our success in overcoming these challenges. “As conservation biologists we feel like we are tinkering around the edges and fiddling while Rome burns,” Swaisgood said during his Monday afternoon talk entitled, “Finding hope for conservation and endangered species because we must.”  Swaisgood argued that confident expectations for conservation outcomes lead to increased effort, while low expectations “robustly predict giving up.” Moreover, Swaisgood emphasized that hope is an essential tool for garnering public support for conservation efforts, and challenged scientists to assume responsibility for engaging citizens—particularly the next generation—in science and nature in a hopeful and productive way. “Time spent in nature predicts environmental attitudes… [but] Americans are becoming increasingly indifferent to the environment” Swaisgood said. He encouraged scientists to get involved in community leadership, outreach, K-12 education reform, and citizen science to help communicate conservation messages that are framed positively, constructively and optimistically. As Swaisgood and his co-author James Sheppard have put it, “Our point is not that hope is the logical alternative but that it is the necessary alternative” (BioScience 2011). Whether or not hope is a logical alternative is likely to be a personal decision; however Bernd Blossey of Cornell University also offered positive evidence, supported by science, that our idea of ‘nature’ as a pristine entity separate from humans is a fallacy. In his introduction to the conference, he stressed that historically, nature has repeatedly demonstrated extraordinary resilience by returning from disaster and disruption to support life in one form or another. Blossey left the audience with a quote from Aldo Leopold—“I have no hope for conservation born of fear”—that helped to set the tone of optimism for the discussions to come. Photo: National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, WV, Ryan Hagerty/USFWS...

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What’s in a name? Proposed reinterpretation of key words in the Endangered Species Act

This post contributed by Sean Hoban, a post-doc in conservation biology at the University of Ferrara, Italy   How important can five words be?  Very! The 1973 Endangered Species Act states that a species may be regarded as endangered if “threatened with extinction […] throughout all or a significant portion of its range” (my underline, hereafter, SPR).  Remarkably, neither the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) nor National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has had an official policy on the meaning of this phrase for the thirty-nine year history of the Act.  Enter proposal FWS–R9–ES–2011–003 (summarized here), which spells out the Services’ soon-to-be official interpretation of the seemingly innocuous phrase, specifically defining the words “significant” and “range.” As a conservation biologist working for effective species survival, I would like to share my impressions of the proposal, and encourage all to participate in the public comment, extended until March 7.  How these five words are interpreted will have lasting consequences for species’ listing and subsequent recovery plans and management actions. After an insightful review of past legislative battles over SPR, the proposal gets down to business on page 5, stating that a definition of “significant” should include (a) the variable to measure and (b) a threshold for that variable.  Further, a) and b) should be based on biological and conservation criteria. We would probably all agree here!  But read on, controversy awaits. As explained on page 8, in the preamble to the proposal, a portion of a species’ range may be “significant” with respect to a species’ resiliency (ability to recover), redundancy (multiple, distributed “backups”), and/or representation (range of variation).  Also important are “abundance, spatial distribution, productivity, and diversity of the species.” However, these key variables are lacking in the actual proposed interpretation (page 16/17); the actual definition of a SPR is very succinct: “without that portion, the species would be in danger of extinction. If so, the portion is significant.” It is therefore arguable whether the new phrasing improves specificity; this wording seems as open to interpretation and debate as ever.  Further, as noted in several ongoing dialogues on Ecolog-l, and summarized in an open letter by the Center for Biological Diversity, this could “result in species that are severely endangered in portions of their range being denied protection because they are secure in some portion of their range even if that portion is just a fraction.”  Specific examples are argued in recent news articles and blogs.  These commentaries question whether (in the proposal’s words) “the draft policy would result in the Services listing and protecting throughout their ranges species that previously we either would not have listed, or would...

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