ESA Policy News May 18: Senate considers COMPETES reauthorization, House CJS bill would reduce NSF funding
May18

ESA Policy News May 18: Senate considers COMPETES reauthorization, House CJS bill would reduce NSF funding

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  RESEARCH: SENATE COMMITTEE CONTINUES DELIBERATION OF AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION On May 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee convened a hearing entitled “Leveraging the US Science and Technology Enterprise.” The hearing is part of the committee’s ongoing efforts to solicit input from the scientific community as it drafts legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. In his opening statement, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) praised the work of committee members Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) in their bipartisan efforts to solicit input from and convene roundtables allowing members of the scientific community to weigh in on the Senate’s efforts to reauthorize the bill. “Common themes arising from the roundtables included support for continued investment by the federal government in basic research, as well as encouragement of wider participation in STEM subjects; stronger partnerships among government, the private sector, and academia that could better leverage discoveries emerging from our research universities to drive innovation; and the importance of minimizing barriers and improving incentives for universities and the private sector to better maximize the scientific and economic return on limited federal research resources,” said Thune. Witnesses testifying included  Kelvin Droegemeier, vice chairman, National Science Board; Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president for research, Microsoft Corp.; Robert Atkinson, president, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; and David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering. Click here to view the hearing. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL REDUCES NSF, SCIENCE FUNDING On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill. In total, the bill includes $56 billion in discretionary spending, a $279 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.4 billion in FY 2017, a $57 million decrease over FY 2016. Research and Related Activities is increased by $46 million targeted to programs that foster innovation and US economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education. Reductions are made in equipment and construction costs. Unlike the Senate CJS appropriations bill, there is no increased funding allocated towards the construction of Regional Class Research Vessels, setting up a potential showdown if the two chambers negotiate a final bill this fall. Below are funding levels for other science agencies in the bill, compared to the FY 2016 enacted level: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.6 billion, a $185 million decrease National Aeronautics and Space Administration:$19.5 billion, a $223 million increase National Institute of...

Read More

Field Talk: Termites enrich the soil in East Africa

Vertebrate fertilizer is not the only source of nutrients in the soils of East African savannahs, at least according to a study recently published in the journal Ecology. Alison Brody from the University of Vermont and colleagues found that termites actually had more of an effect on the fruiting success of Acacia trees in Kenya than did dung and urine deposition from ungulate herbivores, such as zebras and gazelles.

Read More

National parks aren’t doing the trick in Kenya

Elephants have changed the ecology of Amboseli and other national parks in Kenya. Credit: David Western Research in PLoS ONE today shows that animals in Kenya’s national parks are declining at the same rate as the same species outside the parks.  This means, potentially, that the protection of animals in safe spaces may not lead to their recovery or success. David Western, the author and founder/director of the African Conservation Centre in Nairobi, said in a statement that pressures around the parks are affecting the wildlife in the parks. When protected areas are delineated, human-made infrastructure, such as agriculture, can jut up against it. Many large mammals migrate seasonally, and the small areas within the parks can thwart their travels. The parks, said Western, were formed around places where people saw large aggregations of mammals, including elephants, giraffes and impala. This technique ignored the animals’ season migrations, mostly because people just didn’t know where the animals were migrating to.  What’s more, elephants are effective ecosystem engineers. Said Western: “Elephants need a lot of space. They move around. But now that they have been limited to smaller areas, they’re taking out the woody vegetation and reducing the overall biodiversity in the national parks. We’re seeing throughout our parks in Kenya a change from woody habitats to grassland habitats. As a result, we’re losing the species that thrive in woody areas, such as giraffe, lesser kudu and impala.” Another reason these national park populations might be declining, said Western, is that local farmers perceive it as a threat. Because they can’t use the lands to grow food, they willingly invite poachers onto the land.  In fact, the biggest parks are experiencing the worst declines, possibly because they’re in pastoral lands surrounded by farmers. In smaller parks near cities, Western said, the population is more educated and financially stable, so they don’t view the parks negatively. Western suggests that to end farmers’ antagonism toward national parks, the government should share some of the financial benefits with local communities. Read more in the PLoS ONE (open access). Western, D., Russell, S., & Cuthill, I. (2009). The Status of Wildlife in Protected Areas Compared to Non-Protected Areas of Kenya PLoS ONE, 4 (7) DOI:...

Read More