ESA Policy News: November 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. 2012 ELECTION: RESULTS PRODUCE SAME PLAYERS, ADDED POLARIZATION The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members. White House The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained.  The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved. The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies. House US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses. Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to...

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Near record-breaking droughts, wildfires could advance climate change dialogue

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst New reports continue to suggest that rising temperatures are coinciding with near record-breaking numbers of droughts and wildfires across the United States. Taken collectively, the evidence lends to the notion that climate change is having serious impacts on human society. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the leader in providing US weather forecasting data, recently noted that the globally-averaged temperature for June 2012 was the fourth warmest June since 1880. According to NOAA, “It also marks the 36th consecutive June and 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.” The agency reports that global land surface temperature for June was 1.07°C (1.93°F) above the 20th century average of 13.3°C (55.9°F), the warmest June on record and the second month in a row where global land temperature broke a record for warmth. The world’s ocean temperatures for June marked the 10th warmest temperatures on record. NOAA reports that more than 55 percent of the continental United States was experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions in June. The last time drought conditions were worse was December of 1956, when 58 percent of the country was experiencing moderate to extreme drought. According to the agency, June farmer reports of pasture and row crop conditions have recently deteriorated to their poorest conditions for that month since 1988. The agency identified the hardest hit areas as the Southern to Central Rockies, the Central Plains and the Ohio Valley for having the least precipitation and smallest percent of normal precipitation between March and June 2012. For many areas, including the Rockies, the dry conditions have been coupled with an increase in wildfires. According to NOAA, the 1.36 million acres that burned nationwide during June amounted to the second most burned acreage on record for the month, despite the fact that there were fewer individual outbreaks. Since 2010, the number of acres burned per fire in June has surpassed all years from the previous decade with the exception of 2005 and in the past three years, has nearly doubled the average of the past decade. National fire management efforts are coordinate through the National Interagency Fire Center, a collaboration of organizations and government agencies including the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At the federal level, discussion of climate change policy has become polarized to an unprecedented level. At the same time, though it might appear hypocritical to some, there remains an interest across political parties and ideologies on the impacts changes are having on local communities, be they...

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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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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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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: 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: SUBCOMMITTEEE ASSESSES EPA SCIENTIFIC REVIEW PROCESS On Feb. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Fostering Quality Science at EPA: Perspectives on Common Sense Reform.” The hearing sought to examine EPA’s scientific processes, as outlined under the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDDA). Citing the testimony of witnesses from a related hearing last year, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) stressed that efforts to improve EPA’s research activities should seek “to separate science and policy, to quantify uncertainties, to ensure greater transparency in the data, models, and assumptions used in regulatory decisions, to prioritize environmental problems and solutions, and to stop overly alarmist approaches to benefit-cost analysis.” Panelists were divided over the quality of EPA’s scientific research. Deborah Swackhamer, Chairwoman of the EPA Science Advisory Board, concurred that EPA could do more to give the public access to the data it relies on in its reports, but she said there are existing controls to prevent conflicts of interest. She noted that peer reviewers must disclose their positions on various issues and their sources of funding before they are assigned to assess a report. View the complete hearing here. OIL DRILLING: LAWMAKERS URGE INTERIOR TO EXPAND LEASING PLAN   Led by Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX) and Gene Green (D-TX), a group of 182 bipartisan House Members have signed a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, requesting expanded access to offshore energy production. The letter urges Interior to offer new and expanded access in its proposed 2012-2017 offshore leasing plan. The new five-year plan, required under federal law, would be the first since presidential and congressional moratoria against drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific were lifted in 2008, according to the letter. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the five-year plan makes roughly 75 percent of the country’s known oil and gas resources available for development. While areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic are included, the plan omits both the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast, noting there are outstanding issues related to locality interest and environmental safety for the two latter regions. The proponents of the letter argue that opening up additional waters to offshore drilling will spur job creation and generate revenue to help foster economic recovery. View a copy of the House letter here. Additional information on the Interior proposal is viewable here.     OIL DRILLING: GOP MODERATES RISE IN OPPOSITION TO ANWR LEGISLATION   On Feb. 9, six moderate Republicans spearheaded...

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ESA Policy News: March 11

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE MEMBERS, SCIENTISTS DISCUSS CLIMATE CHANGE, EPA REGS The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee met Tuesday, March 8, 2011 to examine climate science. The hearing served as a precursor to the mark-up of H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, a bill to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asserted that the overall issue is not whether or not one considers climate change to be a serious problem, but whether EPA’s regulatory efforts present a wise solution. Whitfield maintained that the Upton bill was not a response to climate science, but a way to eliminate an unsound strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. “One need not be a skeptic of global warming to be a skeptic of EPA’s regulatory agenda,” he said. Full committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) was quick to note that the hearing focus on climate science was at the insistence of committee Democrats. Waxman asserted the Upton bill would remove the administration’s main tools to address one of the most critical problems facing the world today. “If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn’t scour the country to find someone to tell me that I don’t need to worry about it,” Waxman said. Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that 95 percent of scientists and scientific organizations worldwide have reached a consensus that man-made greenhouse gases are substantially contributing to climate change. Rush highlighted what he viewed as the many benefits of mitigating climate change, including “energy independence, sustainability, cleaner air and water, and a healthier populace.” While the witnesses included several scientists who supported the consensus view that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are a central driver of the adverse impacts of climate change, two of the witnesses, Dr. John Cristy of the University of Alabama and Dr. Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, were ardent climate skeptics. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE REJECTS PARTISAN LONG-TERM SPENDING PROPOSALS On March 9, the Senate rejected two continuing resolutions (CRs) to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year. H.R. 1, the House-passed CR, which would cut $61 billion in funding from FY 2010, failed by a vote of 44-56 with no support from Democrats. Additionally, three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus voted against the bill: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). Senate Democrats put forward an amendment in the nature of a substitute...

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The Appalachian Trail in five minutes

Stretching approximately 2,181 miles (3,510 km), and reaching elevations higher than 6,000 feet, the Appalachian Scenic National Trail is a wilderness hiking trail that begins in Georgia, spans fourteen total states, and ends in Maine. An extension—the International Appalachian Trail—continues through Canada until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. It is managed by the United States National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and is maintained by more than 30 trail clubs. Since the trail traverses various forests along the Appalachian Mountain Range, the landscape, temperature, plants and animal life vary drastically. As described on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website: “Today, the Appalachians hold one of the world’s richest assemblages of temperate zone species. In fact, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail may contain the greatest biodiversity of any unit of the National Park Service. The Southern Appalachians, never transformed by glaciers, are home to terminally slow organisms including snails, vernal herbaceous plants and salamanders. Rivers drain to the south in the Southern Appalachians, which allowed some species to escape Ice Age extermination, and today the region has a legendary richness of fish, mussel and crayfish species. Farther north along the Trail corridor it is possible to find rare bird species including Bicknell’s Thrush. The Appalachian Trail’s protected corridor anchors the nation’s Eastern Forest block, which is vital to the nation not only ecologically but also socio-economically. Those forests in turn serve to protect the watersheds that service a significant percentage of the population of the United States.” More than 10,000 hikers have reported completing the entire Appalachian Trail in the U.S., walking approximately five million steps. One such hiker is Kevin Gallagher from Richmond, Virginia, who hiked the trail and documented his progress. The nearly five minute video (below) entitled “Green Tunnel” shows a timelapse of his journey. As explained on his website: “Each day of the six month trek, Kevin took photographs of a single quintessential section of the trail. Twenty four successive steps down the trail were captured each day. At the end of the journey he had over 4,000 slides which were then strung together to offer a condensed view of what an accelerated hike along the Appalachian mountain range would look like.” Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo. Take the Appalachian Trail quiz or read state-by-state details on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website. Also, see photos in each state: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Photo Credits: rskoon (Georgia), carobe (Virginia), jasonB42882 (Pennsylvania), georgia.kral...

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