ESA Policy News: July 26
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ESA Policy News: July 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID). As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect. For additional information on the bill, click here. EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped...

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ESA Policy News: June 14
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ESA Policy News: June 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. EDUCATION: STEM REORGANIZATION EFFORT MEETS BIPARTISAN CRITICISM On June 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing examining the Obama Administration’s proposed reorganization of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) programs outlined in its proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Under the plan, 110 of 226 federal agency STEM programs would be eliminated. The plan would house STEM programs primarily under three agencies: the Department of Education (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI). DOE would oversee K-12 programs, NSF would oversee undergraduate and graduate programs while the Smithsonian would be responsible for informal science education. The proposal, an effort on the part of the administration to deal with the reality of current fiscal constraints, was met with inquiries and skepticism from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and former chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) were all particularly concerned with the reorganization’s impact on STEM programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The reorganization would cut NASA programs by one-third. NASA’s STEM programs would lose $50 million under the reorganization effort.  There were also bipartisan concerns that the reorganization does not include enough focus on vocational training programs or programs that seek to increase STEM participation among underrepresented groups, including women and minorities. Members of Congress expressed concern that the reorganization effort was decided primarily through the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with little input from school districts, non-profits, universities or the federal agency program managers responsible for the programs slated for elimination. “In addition to being concerned about the process, I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself.  To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren noted that no one wants to see their own programs reduced or eliminated. View the full hearing here. CLIMATE CHANGE: US, CHINA REACH DEAL ON HFC EMISSIONS On June 8, the White House announced that the United States had reached an agreement with China to reduce the use of use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are greenhouse gases used in refrigerator and air conditioner appliances. The most common types of HFCs are anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet. According to the White House, HFC emissions could grow to nearly...

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Wolf conservation efforts furthered by emphasizing shared goals

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst There is often a great deal of discussion over the need to enage policymakers on the importance of scientific research. However, scheduling meetings with their elected representatives is not the sole recourse scientists have in informing the public. As recent Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award winner Matthew Schuler points out in the latest The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, engaging with one’s own local community can be of equal (if not more) importance in influencing public policy. After all, policymakers are ultimately subject to the will of their constituents, so networking with these constituents directly and forming a continued dialogue on the important role research has in their own community can have the long-term domino effect of influencing how federal, state and local lawmakers prioritize research investment in the communities they represent. Schuler notes that a consensus approach to wolf management includes balancing conservation efforts and the various needs of both human communities and wolf packs. To the ire of some, this can include the forced removal of wolf populations from city areas through either transplanting wolves or “humanely put them down,” as Schuler describes it. In the podcast, Schuler uses his experiences with the Timber Wolf Information Network (TWIN) in Wisconsin as an example of how positive community engagement has altered the perception local rod and gun clubs have of wolves. Schuler notes that research has demonstrated that the presence of wolves corresponds with a larger number of sturdier, healthier bucks with larger antlers.  Predation by wolves tends to pick off the weakest, less desirable  animals such as deer prized by hunters. Hence, the members of these clubs were much more supportive of the work of TWIN when they came to understand how they benefitted from wolf conservation efforts. In the wake of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision late last year to delist Great Lakes wolves from the Endangered Species Act, TWIN continues to work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other interested parties on wolf management efforts in the region. The network is currently following the government’s plans  for Wisconsin’s first wolf hunt since 1957. The hunt is slated to occur in October. In the meantime, TWIN continues to post links keeping its membership abreast of related news and updates. Photo credits: Sometimesong, HyperLemon...

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ESA Policy News: March 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES The House Science, Space and Technology committee recently convened hearings that examined the science and research investments outlined in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. During a Feb. 17 hearing that focused on research and development, there was a consensus among committee leaders on certain investments while views differed sharply on where the administration’s priorities should lie. “I continue to believe that while it is true that prudent investments in science and technology, including STEM education, will almost certainly yield future economic gains and help create new jobs of the future, it is also true that these gains can be hindered by poor decision-making,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Hall expressed his concern for increases in programs he views as “duplicative and wasteful” as well as increases for climate change related research. Hall also expressed concern for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) request, which would cut funding by $59 million. Committee Democrats were overall supportive of the budget, mindful of the current political climate that has members of both parties urging some manner of fiscal restraint. “Investments in research and development and STEM education are critical to fostering innovation and maintaining our nation’s competitive edge.  But these are also fiscally challenging times,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We will have some concerns and disagreements, but let me be clear.  This is a good budget for research, innovation, and education under the circumstances,” she added. With regard to the administration’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF), austerity concerns from the majority were somewhat more tepid. “While a nearly five percent increase for NSF in FY 13 shows stronger fiscal constraint than the FY 2012 request at 13 percent, I remain concerned that our federal agencies still are not doing enough to encourage austerity and properly prioritize scarcer federal funds,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). “NSF has a long and proven track record, one in which we are all proud, and I have every reason to believe NSF will continue this good work with whatever budgets are forthcoming from Congress,” he concluded. View the R&D hearing here. View the NSF hearing here. BUDGET: EPA ADMINISTRATOR CRITICIZED OVER REGULATORY EFFORTS The week of February 27 brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings concerning the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request. Funding for EPA under the president’s budget request would be cut by one percent for a total of...

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Great Lakes Worm Watch

By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. RYAN Hueffmeier wants to talk to you about the humble earthworm. Trusty fish bait, friend to schoolchildren, gardeners and composters, the earthworm is no friend to the hardwood forests of the Great Lakes. It is a European invader, and its decomposition services, well known to gardeners, are not helpful to the forest ecosystems that have evolved without them. Hueffmeier is program coordinator for Great Lakes Worm Watch, a citizen science project based at the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota, and he is well versed in explaining the earthworm situation to audiences of a broad range of ecological and vermicological familiarity. There are no earthworms native to the northern reaches of North America. Land that lay under heavy ice during the last ice age lost any worms it may have had (the fossil record is thin on soft-bodied creatures). Native earthworms do trawl the soils farther south, but their advance is slow; they had not re-colonized the upper Midwest and Canada at the time Europeans began to colonize North America. Researchers suspect the worms hitchhiked across the Atlantic in the ballast of ships and the root balls of imported shrubs. Earthworms have now arrived in the Great Lakes vicinity—not everywhere, some earthworm-free places remain, but the worms are spreading, and humans are their vector. Ecologists can sometimes see the advance of the worm front in the drought-like symptoms of infested forests. The European species seem to do well everywhere they go, even pushing into the historical territory of native earthworms. To understand how earthworms affect the ecosystems of the Great Lakes, it would be great to know where the worms are and are not, and in what abundance and species variety. But sampling all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Indiana is a vastly labor intensive task. “The beautiful thing about citizen science is that you can get a lot of people to collect a lot of data,” said Hueffmeier. UM researcher Cindi Hale chartered the project in 2000 as Minnesota Worm Watch, and it has expanded to the entire Great Lakes region and beyond. They now have so much data that the problem has become how to organize and display it without a dedicated data manager on the job. By next year, they hope to have developed a more muscular interactive map, interconnecting different kinds of information. But their website has plenty of information and project ideas to poke through already— and there is still plenty of territory to cover on the way to understanding earthworm ecology and gaining public help in managing the spread of the worm....

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Great Lakes gray wolves delisted, federal monitoring efforts continue

The United State Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recent decision to remove the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan has been met with a wide array of praise from policymakers and conservationists alike, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Aside from some concerns about species classification of the population, the move has been met with substantially less criticism than the unconventional legislative action that mandated the delisting of gray wolves in areas of the Northern Rockies. The gray wolf was first granted federal protection after enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1978, the Minnesota population of gray wolves was re-classified as “threatened” under the Act while gray wolves throughout the remainder of the continental United States were listed as “endangered.” The law afforded the wolves protection from unregulated killing and resulted in increased scientific research on wolves as well as education efforts that increased public understanding of the animals. At the time of the Act’s enactment, there were only a few hundred wolves in Minnesota and a small number on Isle Royal, Michigan. Since that time, the Minnesota populations have expanded into new packs that migrated into Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. Combined, there are now over 4,000 wolves in the three states. Each of these states has designated federally approved population minimums for its wolves. According to the FWS, Minnesota’s management plan would allow the state’s population to drop from nearly 3,000 to as low as 1,600 wolves. In Wisconsin, where there are an estimated 782 wolves, the minimum population management goal is 350 in areas outside of American Indian reservations. Michigan has set a minimum of 200 wolves from its current population of 687. This new designation does not have any effect on the current federal status of wolf populations outside the Great Lakes’ “distinct population segment.” But what’s to prevent these wolves from being hunted and killed to the point where they have to be reinstated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act? The FWS has published a monitoring plan to track wolf populations in the Great Lakes area. In collaboration with a number of other U.S. federal agencies, including the Forest Service, Geological Survey, and Park Service, the FWS will continue to monitor wolf populations in the Great Lake states for a minimum of five years to ensure that populations remain robust. These federal agencies will work closely with tribal natural resource agencies and the respective state wildlife agencies to monitor wolf populations for threats, including diseases and human-caused mortality. If the status...

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ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES BILL FUNDING AGENCIES THROUGH FY 2012 The week of Dec. 16, Congress passed H.R. 2055, an omnibus bill which funds the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-121 and the Senate by a vote of 67-32. The omnibus bill incorporates the remaining nine appropriations bills that were not included in the “minibus” that passed earlier this year (P.L. 112-55). The new omnibus bill includes funding for the Departments of Interior and Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Energy and Water Overall, energy and water programs are funded at $32 billion for FY 2012, a $328 million increase over FY 2011. For Department of Energy science programs, the bill includes $4.9 billion, an increase of $46 million from FY 2011. The bill also includes $769 million for nuclear energy research and development, $43 million above FY 2011. For environmental management activities, the bill includes $5.7 billion, a $31 million increase over FY 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5 billion, a $145 million increase from FY 2011. The FY 2012 funding level for the Corps is also $429 million above the president’s request, one of the few agencies to enjoy this distinction this year. Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $8.4 billion for FY 2012, $233 million below FY 2011.The conference agreement cuts $14 million (six percent) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (9.5 percent) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (five percent) to air regulatory programs. The bill also reduces the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $101 million. Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, $5 million below FY 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, $28 million below FY 2011. National Park Service: $2.6 billion, $32 million below FY 2011. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: $60 million (this agency was formalized in FY 2011). Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research for this agency, formalized in FY 2011. U.S. Forest Service: $4.6 billion for the Forest Service in FY 2012, $91 million below FY 2011. Department of Defense Research and Development: $72.4 billion, $2.5 billion below FY 2011. Click here for the House summary of the omnibus bill or here for the Senate summary of the omnibus bill. A comprehensive listing of policy riders included in the bill...

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ESA Policy News: November 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE PASSES ‘MINI-BUS’ FUNDING NSF, NOAA On Nov. 1, the Senate passed a mini omnibus (“minibus”) measure that incorporated three individual appropriations bills: Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development as well as the Agriculture Rural Development Food and Drug Administration appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The minibus bill (H.R. 2112) passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 69-30. Sixteen Republicans joined all Democrats and Independents in supporting the measure. Funding levels are largely unchanged from the measures approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee two months ago. The bill includes $6.7 million for the National Science Foundation, a reduction of $162 million from FY 2011. For the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the bill includes $5 billion, a $434 million increase from FY 2011. The Senate measure increases investment in NOAA research initiatives, including $161.5 million for the agency’s climate service. The House bill prohibits funding for the climate service. For the Agricultural Research Service, the FY 2012 bill provides $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011.  The bill provides $709.8 million for research and education activities within the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, up from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $828 million for FY 2012, down from $871 million in FY 2011. For more information on the science-related components of the appropriations measure, see the Sept. 23 edition of ESA Policy News or see the  Sept. 9 edition of ESA Policy News for more information on the agricultural research components of the measure. OCEANS: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS DEFEND NATIONAL OCEANS POLICY On Oct. 26, the House Natural Resources Committee convened a hearing on the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy. While this was the second hearing by the committee to examine the policy, it was the first to feature testimony from key senior officials from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said the plan  places restrictions on ocean and coastal inland activities. “I have asked the administration for the specific statutory authority that allows the president, by executive order, to create regional planning bodies and require them to create regional zoning plans. So far, I have been given only a hodge-podge list of all the statutes that apply to ocean and/or coastal activities,” he said. Hastings cited the policy as a “huge new bureaucracy” that could “cost jobs and have devastating long-term economic impacts throughout the country.” Chairman Hastings asserted that...

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