Managing non-native invasive plants

 This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Many invasive species can have a domino effect of throwing an entire ecosystem off balance by diminishing native plant or animal species that function as an important resource for both natural ecosystems and human communities. According to the Nature Conservancy, the estimated damage from invasive species worldwide totals over $1.4 trillion, five percent of the global economy. Invasive species that have gained notoriety in the United States include the Burmese python, Asian carp, Northern snakehead fish,Asian tiger mosquito, emerald ash borer and  brown marmorated stink bug. Non-native  invasives from the plant kingdom can be just as damaging, if not more so. Invasive plant species have the ability to reduce the amounts of light, water, nutrients and space available to native species in an ecosystem. Their ability to affecthydrological patterns, soil chemistry, soil erosion and fire frequency can also have disastrous economic consequences for human society, particularly the agricultural industry. Federal management of invasive species is primarily handled by the United States Department of Agriculture along with the National Park Service.  According to the U.S. Forest Service, invasive exotic plants constitute eight to 47 percent of the total flora of most states in the nation. Of the approximately 4,500 exotic species currently in the U.S., at least 15 percent cause severe harm. Examples of the detriments of invasive plants include alteration of food webs, degradation on wildlife habitat, changes of fire and hydrological regimes and increases in erosion rates. The Forest Service estimates that the United States spends approximately $145 million annually in its attempt to control non-native invasive plants. In a recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Sara Kuebbing discusses her work on invasive plant species at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In addition, Kuebbing serves on the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council (TN-EPPC). Her work has included some of the most problematic invasive plant species in the state of Tennessee and the greater United States. During the podcast, Sara touches on her research and efforts by TN-EPPC and affiliated state entities to educate communities on invasive plant species and manage both existing and potential threat species. Perhaps among the most renowned invasive plant species is kudzu, which currently inhabits 30 states and the District of Columbia. According to scientific studies, kudzu’s nationwide invasion costs about $100-500 million per year in forest productivity loss. Kudzu can grow on top of structures and even other plants, including trees, basically suffocating them by obstructing their access to light and other necessary resources.  Power companies spend about $1.5 million annually to control...

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Recalibrating expectations for U.S. science

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Spoiler alert: this is not an upbeat post, although it does offer a few hopeful spots… As many in the ecological community already know, obtaining monetary support for conducting research is tough.  The number one federal agency that supports fundamental research in ecology is the National Science Foundation (NSF), funding about 65 percent of ecological research conducted at U.S. research institutions.  Many other agencies, from the Forest Service to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also play important roles in supporting ecological science, although mostly through their own agency scientists. At NSF, the Biology Directorate has long been one of the most competitive, with a grant proposal success rate that now hovers around only 10 percent.  Ecologists have enjoyed support from other federal agencies, but those budgets are also sloping downhill.  Foundations, which also have provided support to the ecological community, are themselves facing financially harder times.  Things have gotten to the point that some older ecologists are candidly saying that they can’t in good faith recommend to students to go into the field of ecology due to the bleak outlook for making a decent living.  The situation seems unlikely to get better anytime soon. As anyone following recent policy developments knows, a gloomy budget environment is clouding outlooks in Washington, DC.  Although many agencies, including NSF, have managed to keep their budgets fairly intact for the current fiscal year, the specter of cuts is getting closer—when the Budget Control Act kicks in to slash both defense and civilian budgets. Yesterday’s, ScienceLive featured a chat with two long-time Washington science policy insiders, Michael Stephens (Association of Schools of Public Health) and Joel Widder (The Oldaker Law Group), who shared their opinions of what might be in store and responded to online questions.  Both said that NSF and the National Institutes of Health, as agencies supporting basic research, enjoy support by both Congress and the Administration.  But Stephens and Widder acknowledged that a world in which flat or declining budgets become the norm will present federal agencies with serious challenges on how to allocate their limited resources. In response to a question about the role of politics in science, Widder stated that: “As long as the federal government is going to spend in excess of $130 billion on research and development annually, and taxpayers will be the ultimate source of that money, politics will be an inherent part of the science funding enterprise.”  Stephens pointed out that overall the amount of “political meddling” in science is minimal and that with a few exceptions, science remains well respected.  “And I...

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Habitat corridors help preserve wildlife in the midst of human society

As demonstrated by a recent vote in Congress, it appears that support remains among policymakers to preserve endangered species. H.R. 2584, the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, as introduced, included language to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from adding any additional plant or animal species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) sponsored an amendment to remove the provision from the bill. The amendment passed by a vote of 224-202, with 37 Republicans voting for the amendment and all but two Democrats supporting it. Several key senior Republicans supported the amendment, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (MI), House Science, Space and Technology Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (MD) and Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Committee Chairman Frank Wolf (VA). In light of this relatively bipartisan consensus to preserve endangered species, policymakers should also work to advance initiatives that help sustain protected wildlife. One key tool in ensuring the preservation of endangered species is the establishment of habitat corridors, which help mitigate the effects of habitat fragmentation, brought on largely by urban development. In the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Daniel Evans discusses his National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research into habitat corridors and their importance to ecological communities. Habitat fragmentation can lead to an overall reduction in species population and potentially local extinction of a plant or animal species. As Evans notes, species affected by habitat fragmentation become increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters and predation and are also more susceptible to inbreeding, increasing the prevalence of genetic defects. In light of this, habitat corridors provide numerous benefits for plants and animals and can play a critical role for endangered species. Habitat corridors allow movement between isolated populations, promoting increased genetic diversity. They provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife and help with juvenile dispersal and seasonal migrations. The establishment of additional habitat corridors can also benefit people, with underpasses or overpasses for wildlife helping to reduce vehicle collisions with large animals.  For example according to State Farm Insurance, the biggest U.S. auto insurer, there have been 2.3 million U.S. deer collisions in the past two years, up 21 percent from five years ago. State Farm estimates that deer-vehicle accidents resulted in more than $3.8 billion of insurance claims and driver costs alone over the past year. Habitat corridors can also minimize interaction between humans and wildlife by allowing predators, such as wolves and bears, to hunt for food in other locations, minimizing their threat to...

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URBAANE: An urban environmental conference for communities of color
Jul12

URBAANE: An urban environmental conference for communities of color

This post contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, University of Illinois-Chicago, NSF-IGERT LEAP Fellow and 2011 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner. As an active member of the Ecological Society of America and its Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program and environmental justice (EJ) section, I understand and support the Society’s vested interest in accomplishing meaningful broader impacts. As a member of the steering committee of “Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments” (URBAANE) 2011, I am pleased to have connected the philosophies of the EJ section of ESA to the scope of the overall conference. I share with the ESA community a powerful grassroots conference that surely will resonate within the Society. It represents the potential for us as scientists to connect with communities of color in a way that advances the Society’s goals, as well as moves forward resolutions that are beneficial to diverse audiences. On Saturday June 4, 2011, professionals, students and community members gathered in a historic meeting of the minds to discuss resolutions to urban environmental issues in the Chicago metro area. Chicago State University, together with Fuller Park Community Development and a host of generous sponsors, put together a stellar event titled “Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments” (URBAANE). The conference theme was “Connecting the Lots: Minorities and Urban Land Issues.” Speakers and presenters discussed their work as it related to land issues, including the uses of vacant lots, the spatial distribution of natural resources or the quality of spaces for various greenspace uses. URBAANE 2011’s mission was to develop a conference that discussed perspectives, research and solutions related to environmental justice, environmental education, green jobs, green development/industry and urban agriculture. Designed as a community conference, attendees varied in age, education levels and professions. The goal was to engage a diverse audience, foster networking between community groups and academia as well as student populations and government agencies. The findings and action plans resulting from URBAANE 2011 will contribute to establishing an agenda for African Americans and people of color on urban socio-ecological issues in the Chicago metro area. As exciting as it was to plan the conference, it was a true delight for me that one hundred percent of URBAANE speakers and panelists were people of color. All too often the voices of communities of color are whispers in environmental conversations amongst the booming voices of those in the scientific community.  Held in the New Academic Library on the campus of Chicago State University, the venue could not have been more ideal. Along with its strong environmental program—including biological sciences, geography and chemistry—the campus houses an award-winning...

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Environmental justice: Merging Earth stewardship with social justice

Can social justice be achieved (at least partially) through the advancement of environmental stewardship? Both the executive branch of the federal government and a number of local community outreach organizations across the country believe it’s certainly an effective avenue to take when working to ensure our nation’s communities have equal input into the policy proposals that impact our natural surroundings. One of those organizations is the Eden Place Nature Center in Chicago, which received accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004 for its creative use of natural landscaping to support the native wildlife that contributes to the region’s biodiversity. In the most recent Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Kellen Marshall-Gillespie speaks about her experiences working on ecological issues within the Eden Place Nature Center as she pursues her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Chicago. EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The term arose in the 1980s when racial minority communities raised concerns that they were disproportionately impacted by the effects of industrial pollution. There were also concerns in these communities that mainstream environmental organizations were not prioritizing issues related to environmental justice, concerns that would finally earn a federal response in the coming decade. According to the EPA, at the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus and a bipartisan coalition of scientists and conservation activists, the agency created the Environmental Equity Working group in 1990 to address these concerns. In 1992, the working group issued a final report entitled “Reducing Risk in All Communities.” Among its findings, the report noted that due to exposures to environmental pollutants, black children have a disproportionately higher lead blood levels compared to whites, even when socioeconomic variables are considered. It also cited findings from the Argonne National Laboratory, indicating that “higher percentages of blacks and Hispanics live in EPA-designated non-attainment areas, relative to whites, for particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide and lead.” (A non-attainment area is defined as a locality where air pollution levels persistently, over several years, exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards as defined under the Clean Air Act of 1990). The report also attributed the “not in my backyard” syndrome as the reason many hazardous and solid waste facilities are positioned near communities with the least ability to mount a protest. On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, entitled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low‐Income Populations” (EO 12898). It directs...

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Policy News: April 8

  Here are some highlights form the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: NO COMPROMISE IN SIGHT HOURS BEFORE POTENTIAL SHUTDOWN As of the morning of Friday, April 8, repeated meetings at the White House fostered no definitive agreement between House and Senate leaders to fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. Lawmakers and the president have until Friday evening at midnight to avoid a shutdown of the federal government. On Thursday, April 7, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1363, a bill that would fund the Department of Defense through the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011 and fund all other federal agencies for an additional week through April 15. The legislation would cut discretionary spending by $12 billion. It also includes language that would bar the District of Columbia from using local government funds to pay for abortion services. The bill passed by a vote of 247-181. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) offered an alternative measure that would provide a clean extension of government spending at current levels for an additional week. The measure came to a vote and failed completely along party lines 236-187. The abortion restrictions, which serve to rally conservative House Republicans, ultimately helped doom the bill’s chances of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to offer an amended Senate version of the House one-week extension, similar to Hoyer’s measure. In the process of considering the latest funding bill, the House Rules Committee voted to waive a requirement included in House Rules stating that a measure must be introduced three days before it is considered on the House floor. The temporary rule gives the Speaker of the House additional capacity to avert or shorten a government shutdown. While both President Obama and Congressional leaders seem to agree that talks were “progressing” as of Thursday evening, no definitive number or compromise had yet been reached. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on the White House to sign the temporary funding measure. However, President Obama reaffirmed his veto threat against the bill. Majority Leader Reid blamed the stalemate on a partisan dispute over Planned Parenthood and other controversial riders that were included in the House-passed bill. As of April 8, the numerical differences amounted to $5 billion, roughly 0.14 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual budget. Speaker Boehner is pushing for a deal that would include about $39 billion in spending cuts compared to fiscal year (FY) 2010. Reid and Obama are pushing for about $34 billion in cuts, although there have also been recent...

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ESA Policy News: February 10

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: PARTISANSHIP ABOUNDS AT FIRST GOP-LED CLIMATE HEARING House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans questioned climate science and asserted new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules would cost jobs while Democrats accused Republicans of ignoring scientists and human health concerns during the first subcommittee hearing concerning carbon emission regulations and the effects climate change since the GOP regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The focus of the hearing was the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” legislation jointly sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) that would exempt greenhouse gases from regulation under the Clean Air Act. The hearing was presided over by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee. Waxman references Bush EPA Admin letter Prior to the hearing, Ranking Member Waxman sent correspondence to Chairman Upton, which included a January 2008 letter from former President George W. Bush’s third U.S. EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson. In the private letter to the president, Johnson stated “the latest science of climate change requires the agency to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November. The state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.” The letter was sent six months before Johnson overrode EPA scientists’ determination and announced the agency would continue to evaluate evidence to determine whether a positive endangerment finding was warranted. Subsequently in 2009, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson finalized an endangerment finding for carbon and other greenhouse gases, paving the way for their regulation under the Clean Air Act. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE REPUBLICANS RELEASE PROPOSED FY 2011 SPENDING CUTS House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) announced a partial list of spending cuts on February 9 that will be included in the upcoming appropriations Continuing Resolution (CR) for Fiscal Year 2011. The CR would fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2011. Overall, the proposed CR represented a cut of $32 billion from the levels enacted in the temporary CR passed by Congress last December, which expires March 4. Republican appropriators were forced to modify their efforts Thursday, Feb 10, after coming under pressure from Tea-Party freshman Republicans to fulfill their pledge to cut $100 billion in spending this year, according to House aides. The spending cuts originally released by Chairman Rogers based its...

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Investing for the Future: Federal Science Funding and its Benefits for Communities
Oct12

Investing for the Future: Federal Science Funding and its Benefits for Communities

A primary role of policymakers is to serve as the voice of the community they represent. At the federal level, hearing elected officials speak on the House or Senate floor or at a town hall, is one channel citizens use to stay engaged in the issues of the day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if lawmakers could more often use these forums to tout what the latest scientific and technological advancements are contributing to their community?

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