ESA Policy News December 17: Congress passes “CRomnibus” spending bill, Senate committee chairs announced, US Census public comment opportunity
Dec17

ESA Policy News December 17: Congress passes “CRomnibus” spending bill, Senate committee chairs announced, US Census public comment opportunity

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES FY 2015 ‘CROMNIBUS’ FUNDING PACKAGE On Dec. 11, the US House of Representatives passed an omnibus bill to continue funding for most federal agencies through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The Senate then passed a two-day continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown. In a rare evening session on Dec. 13, the Senate passed the bill in a bipartisan vote of 56-40. Dubbed the “CRomnibus,” (a play on the words continuing resolution and omnibus), the bill funds most federal agencies throughout the remainder of FY 2015 ending on Sept. 30, 2015. The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded under a CR until Feb. 2015. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) negotiated the compromise agreement. Under the measure, most federal agencies enjoyed only modest increases due to spending caps set forth under the Murray-Ryan budget agreement. The FY 2015 spending levels for federal agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community in comparison to FY 2014 enacted spending are as follows:  Agriculture Research Service: $1.8 billion, a $55.1 million increase. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $871 million, a $49 million increase. Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, a $13.7 million increase. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $72.4 million, a $3.4 million increase.   Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion, a $25.8 million increase. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $81 million, a $2.4 million increase. Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research: $592 million, an $18.2 million decrease. Department of Energy Office of Science: $5.1 billion, level with FY 2014. Environmental Protection Agency: $8.1 billion, a $60.1 million decrease. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $18 billion, a $364 million increase. National Science Foundation: $7.3 billion, a $172.3 million increase. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.4 billion, a $126 million increase. Natural Resources Conservation Service: $858.4 million, a $33.5 million increase. National Park Service: $2.6 billion, a $53.1 million increase Smithsonian Institution: $819.5 million, a $14.5 million increase. US Army Corps of Engineers: $5.5 billion, a $15 million increase. US Forest Service: $5.1 billion, a $423.4 million decrease. US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.4 billion, a $12.4 million increase. US Geological Survey: $1 billion, a $13 million increase. Click here for additional information on the FY 2015 omnibus bill. Click here for summaries of individual appropriations bills included in the FY 2015 omnibus. Click here for the White House Statement of Administration Policy. SENATE: COMMITTEE CHAIRS, RANKING MEMBERS ANNOUNCED FOR 114TH CONGRESS With the Senate set to change hands in January, Democrats and Republicans announced their picks for top committee positions...

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ESA Policy News December 5: House floats FY 2015 spending deal, NEON scrutinized, Apply for 2015 GSPA
Dec05

ESA Policy News December 5: House floats FY 2015 spending deal, NEON scrutinized, Apply for 2015 GSPA

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE FLOATS FY 2015 SPENDING BILL This week, House leadership announced its plan to continue spending for most government agencies throughout the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 and avert a government shutdown. The House’s 2015 omnibus appropriations bill would fund most government agencies through Sept. 30, 2015. The sole exception would be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would only be funded through March. The deal has often been nicknamed a “cromnibus” package, given that it’s mostly an omnibus, save for DHS, which is funded at existing levels, much like a continuing resolution.  An omnibus is preferential to a continuing resolution in that it gives appropriators more leeway to direct spending levels at a programmatic level. GOP lawmakers singled out the DHS because it has jurisdiction over implementation of the president’s controversial immigration executive order to provide a pathway to legal status for an estimated five million undocumented immigrants. The shortened extension would allow next year’s Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass an FY 2015 funding bill with spending constraints on the agency related to the executive order. The bill is expected to be introduced on Dec. 8. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NEON ACCOUNTING On Dec. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review a series of audits of spending by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) conducted the audits. The first 2011 audit found that the documentation proposing a $433.7 million NEON construction project was inadequate to audit as “none of its proposed cost elements for labor, overhead, equipment, etc., reconcile to its supporting data.” Subsequent audits reports were conducted. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) acknowledged “in response to these audits, NSF has made a number of adjustments to how the agency evaluates costs of major projects” while maintaining that “$150 million in unsupported and questionable costs in the NEON proposal demonstrates that major problems at NSF continue.” Democratic committee members noted there was no representative from NSF itself to provide a balanced perspective.  An NSF spokesperson has stated that the agency has already addressed some issues raised in the audits and is actively working to resolve others. Click here to view the 2011 audit report. Click here to view the 2012 audit report. Click here to view the 2014 audit report. Click here for additional information on the hearing. NSF: CORDOVA ANNOUNCES REVISED TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY GUIDELINES At the November National Science Board (NSB) meeting, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined...

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ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015
Nov19

ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  FOREIGN AFFAIRS: US, CHINA REACH AGREEMENT ON CARBON EMISSION REDUCTIONS On Nov. 12, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement that aims to set the US and China on a path to dramatically reducing their carbon emissions. The United States will cut its emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2025. China agreed to “peak” its emissions by 2030 and will work to meet that goal earlier. China has also set a target to expand use of non-carbon emitting energy sources to 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2030. The breakthrough is pivotal as China previously resisted calls to cap its emissions. The Obama administration declared the reduction goals can be met “under existing law,” without approval from Congress. However, Congress could block funding for the effort using the appropriations process. It appears likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try. This could pose problems for the president’s subsequent pledge of $3 billion (USD) for the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to address the ramifications of climate change in developing nations. Click here for additional information on the agreement. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR QUESTIONS ‘TRUTHY’ NSF STUDY On Nov. 10, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Cordova requesting information on the agency’s decision to fund research into the spread through social media of ideas and memes, including political commentary and campaign messaging. The study in question, entitled “Truthy,” is a multi-year research project by the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. The name is derived from the term “truthiness,” coined by political comedian, Stephen Colbert for information that feels like truth. The authors apply the term to social media messages from bots [programs] that seem to come from real people and sponsored messages that seem to come from grassroots movements. According to the University of Indiana project website, one of the goals of the study is to “develop machine learning and visual analytics tools that could aid people in recognizing misinformation such as harmful rumors, smear campaigns, astroturfing, and other social media abuse.” Chairman Smith contends that the project singles out conservative messaging tactics and threatens free speech. The day Chairman Smith issued the letter; the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a statement on his committee’s continued inquires into NSF grants. Click here to view the AAU statement. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s letter. Click here to view the author’s response. Click here to link to the ‘Truthy’ study website. HOUSE: REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE NAMES NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS...

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‘Threatened’ listing for Gunnison sage grouse rouses political scuffle
Nov17

‘Threatened’ listing for Gunnison sage grouse rouses political scuffle

  A pair of Gunnison sage grouse. Credit/US Fish and Wildlife Service The recent US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has ignited a political fervor between the administration, environmentalists and Colorado and Utah policymakers. “While many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act’s protection,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement.  According to FWS, there are only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse left, occupying only seven to 12 percent of the species historical range in Colorado and Utah. Concurrent with publication of the final rule, FWS is designating 1.4 million acres in Colorado and southeastern Utah as critical habitat for the species. The listing was first proposed by the service in Jan. 2013, citing habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human development. The decision has no direct bearing on FWS’s still pending decision to list the related greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as endangered under the ESA, which the agency is evaluating independently. Many agricultural landowners will not be affected by the bird’s new status. Those who have committed to Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances will be in full compliance with the ESA. Participating landowners took steps to improve sage grouse habitat and survival by, for example, removing invasive cheatgrass and putting ramps into stock tanks to help trapped birds escape drowning. Participants in the USDA’s Sage Grouse Initiative, Working Lands for Wildlife, and Conservation Reserve Program will also be in compliance. The threatened listing differs from an endangered listing in that it provides more flexibility to states and allows FWS to issue special rules that either reduce or expand Endangered Species Act protections for a listed species. Nonetheless, the agency’s decision drew accusations of federal government overreach from lawmakers across the ideological spectrum as well as criticism from the environmental advocacy community in favor of stronger protections. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) issued a joint statement, claiming the decision threatens to undermine the conservation work done at the state and local government level to preserve the species. “We are deeply disappointed the US Fish and Wildlife Service chose to ignore the extraordinary efforts over the last two decades by the state, local governments, business leaders and environmentalists to protect the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat,” said Hickenlooper. “This sends a discouraging message to communities willing to take significant actions to protect species and complicates...

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ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible
Nov05

ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SENATE: ELECTIONS, RETIREMENTS SHAKE UP KEY SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITTEES On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds). Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community. Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member. Appropriations Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Commerce, Science and Transportation Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member. The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities...

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ESA Policy News October 22: White House focuses on climate resiliency, NSF accepting Ebola research proposals, enviros sue to protect Wolverine
Oct22

ESA Policy News October 22: White House focuses on climate resiliency, NSF accepting Ebola research proposals, enviros sue to protect Wolverine

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: NEW CLIMATE STRATEGY PROMOTES NATURAL RESOURCE RESILIENCY The White House released a new resiliency-focused strategy to protect natural resources from threats posed by climate change. The “Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda” focuses on building climate change resilience through various means including enhancing US carbon sinks such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastal areas. The administration announced five executive actions and 16 public-private partnerships to complement this agenda. The overall strategy is the latest effort in the administration’s Climate Action Plan. Click here for additional information. DEFENSE: PENTAGON REPORT NAMES CLIMATE CHANGE AS A THREAT MULTIPLIER On Oct. 13, the Department of Defense released a 20-page report outlining the federal agency’s efforts to address climate change. The report specifies how the military will prepare for the consequences of climate change and its impacts on national security. “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe, “ the report notes. “In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism.” Click here to view the full report. ENDANGERED SPECIES: SENATORS REQUEST WITHDRAWAL OF CRITICAL HABITAT RULES Four Republican Senators penned a letter to the Obama administration requesting the withdrawal of proposed rules intended to clarify the process of designating critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. The Senators are concerned that the new proposals will allow federal agencies to designate critical habitat for areas not currently used by endangered species. Proponents for endangered species agree that critical habitat is the key to survival. Critical habitat provides protections for listed species by prohibiting federal agencies from permitting, funding, or carrying out actions that “adversely modify” designated areas without first consulting the federal entity that designates and monitors the habitat. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) and Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) spearheaded the letter. Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) and Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL) also signed the letter. Click here to view the full letter. FWS: ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS FILE LAWSUIT TO PROTECT WOLVERINE A coalition of eight environmental groups is suing the US Fish and Wildlife...

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The role of ecology in natural resource management decision-making
Oct20

The role of ecology in natural resource management decision-making

Science has an important role to play in helping to inform policy decisions that affect management of ecosystems and natural resources. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Amber Childress (Colorado State University) discusses her experiences informing natural resource management decisions with science. Childress’s ecological research focuses on how water providers have adapted to droughts in the past and how to adjust natural resource management strategies to deal with future challenges brought on by climate change. Her studies specifically focus on water resources along the South Platte River Basin in Colorado. Childress also contributed to a technical report for the third National Climate Assessment (NCA) that gauged climate change impacts in the Great Plains region. The NCA uses the latest scientific evidence to further understanding of how climate change is impacting communities across the United States. “Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast,” the NCA report notes. “Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.” For the Great Plains states, the NCA report found “climate related challenges are expected to involve 1) resolving increasing competition among land, water, and energy resources; 2) developing and maintaining sustainable agricultural systems; 3) conserving vibrant and diverse ecological systems; and 4) enhancing the resilience of the region’s people to the impacts of climate extremes.” Scientific research has also been critical in the promulgation of strategies to monitor and respond to costly natural disaster events, including hurricanes and floods. The need to develop new strategies for various natural resource management activities will only grow as frequencies of drought, torrential storms, flooding, wildfires continue to grow as a consequence of climate change. It is important that scientists continue to engage with policymakers and natural resource managers at all levels of government to help ensure communities can understand and aptly respond to present and future environmental challenges. Photo Credit:...

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Pikas act as ‘climate indicators’
Aug01

Pikas act as ‘climate indicators’

The Oscar-winning Disney movie “Frozen” includes a living snowman character named Olaf that would melt and die under the 70 degree temperatures humans and many other animals prefer. Of course, there are a number of species in the animal kingdom sensitive to heat conditions humans generally find preferable. Some of these are fellow mammals , but not all, are limited to the extreme cold Arctic and Antarctic climates. At home in loose rock areas in alpine and subalpine mountain regions, American pikas are one such species. Though they bear a resemblance to rodents, pikas are actually members of the lagomorpha order, which includes rabbits and hares. Their North American range includes British Columbia in Canada and the US states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Much like the Disney’s Olaf, pikas cannot endure the mid-to-upper 70s temperatures we humans deem comfortably warm for more than a short period.  In fact, pikas would die if exposed to temperatures above 77 degrees for longer than six hours. Alas, the thick-furry coats that keep them snug through a cold-mountain winter prevent them from ever taking in the rays on a warm summer day at the beach. This heat intolerance largely prevents their existence below 8,202 feet in the regions of New Mexico, Nevada and southern California. And yet, this distinct temperature sensitivity makes them interesting specimens for studying the profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2014 Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award winner Johanna Varner (University of Utah) discusses her research into pikas and their importance as climate indicators. A recent study found that extinction rates for American pikas have increased five-fold in the last 10 years while the rate at which the pikas are moving up mountain slopes has increased 11-fold. The US Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in 2010 that the American pika does not warrant Endangered Species Act protection, but this could change if this population decline significantly worsens. Luckily, some pikas have proven to be adaptable in their foraging mannerisms. One population of pikas in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge have adapted to warming temperatures by increasingly eating (and re-ingesting) moss.  Eating moss, which grows in the shadier parts of the animal’s habitat, helps the pikas avoid the blistering (deadly in their case) summer sun while also helping minimize their becoming a victim of predation. Aside from their obvious appeal as “charismatic fauna”, deserving of Disney characterizations in their own right, some might question why research into preserving pikas is important. As Varner notes in the podcast,...

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