ESA session showcases minority outreach opportunities

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst During the Ecological Society America’s (ESA) 2012 annual meeting in Portland, an organized oral session showcased several programs and initiatives that work to expand ecological education and job opportunities for the nation’s underrepresented minorities.  During the session “Increasing Representation of Minorities in Ecology: What Works?” attendees heard from professors, students, federal agency and staff from the Ecological Society of America on programs that successfully engage minority groups in the field of ecology. Deborah Goldberg, from the University of Michigan’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), talked about the work her university is doing to increase recruitment and retention of a more diverse student body. This work includes the Frontiers Masters Program, a National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative that seeks to bring graduate students into the field of ecology and evolution who might not otherwise consider it. Since the program’s inception in 2008, several students have moved on to EEB’s doctoral program. William Van Lopik of the College of the Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wisconsin discussed the role US tribal colleges–attended primarily by Native American students–play in providing a unique research perspective to the broader ecological community. Several speakers, including Talia Young with Rutgers University and Luben Dimov with Alabama A&M University noted the importance of mentoring. Dimov also discussed his research on the success of NSF’s Undergraduate Research and Mentoring in the Biological Sciences program. Young noted how 21st Century social media communications, including cell phone texting and Facebook have played a key role in helping her to stay in touch with the high school students she mentors. Teresa Mourad, Director of ESA’s Diversity and Education Programs, and Melissa Armstrong of Northern Arizona University, discussed ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, which, among its many activities, has provided ecological field trips and undergraduate research fellowships to promote student participation and engagement with the broader ecological community. SEEDS’s achievements have been recognized at the national level as the program was the 2006 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Jeramie Strickland discussed how his participation in SEEDS and other diversity programs eventually helped him land his current position as a wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Strickland also mentors with the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science program and the Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology program, which receives support from ESA and NSF. During the Q & A portion of the session, one audience member asked whether ESA would be better served to invest in students who are already the “best...

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ESA Policy News: July 27

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON NATIVE AMERICANS On July 19, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the impact climate change is having on Native Americans and tribal lands as well as what resources are available to adapt to changes in the environment. Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) spoke of the importance of “Malama Aina,” which is Hawaiian for “caring for the land.” Chairman Akaka said that Native Americans hold the oldest record for being environmental stewards of the nation as it has been a foundation of their culture and world view “over thousands of years” and “hundreds of generations.”In his opening statement, he noted that “while environmental changes are widespread, studies indicate that native communities are disproportionately impacted because they depend on nature for traditional foods, sacred sites and to practice ceremonies that pass on cultural values to future generations.” Most of the witness testimony focused on the impacts climate change is having on their specific communities. Chief Mike Williams of the Yupiit Nation noted that 86 percent of indigenous Alaskan villages are threatened by flooding and erosion due to warming temperatures. Malia Akutagawa, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii – Manoa said that climate change has reduced the number of good fishing days for Native Hawaiians, led to a 15 percent decline in rainfall, drying of forests, crop loss, beach erosion from sea level rise, increased destruction from wildfires, and increased surface air temperature. She also noted that climate change has affected plant flowering and animal migration cycles. Akutagawa called for federal assistance for increasing Hawaiian food security, family farms and coastal zone management programs. There was a general consensus from the witnesses representing indigenous communities that the federal government needs to increase or improve consultation with tribal leaders. View the full hearing here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FEDERAL DROUGHT MONITORING EFFORTS On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review the status of federal drought forecasting efforts. The hearing comes as the existing authorization for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is due to expire this year. In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (R-TX) sought to keep the focus on drought mitigation efforts and steer clear of climate change discussions. “Debating the causes of drought is not in front of us today,” he said. “The real question is:  What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable federal, state...

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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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ESA Policy News: July 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WILDFIRES: FEDERAL MANAGEMENT EFFORTS CONTINUE A number of federal agencies, including the US Forest Service (FS), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense, are continuing to support community recovery efforts from wildfires in Colorado and across the western US. As of this week, there are 40 large wildfires reported in the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alaska, according to DOI. Federal officials report that wildfires nationwide have burned over three million acres, slightly above the 10-year average for this time of year. President Obama formally declared Colorado a federal disaster area on June 29, upon a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and the state’s entire congressional delegation. The designation will offer federal money for assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including temporary housing, debris removal and repairs to public facilities. The president toured the state in late June and DOI Secretary Ken Salazar visited Colorado Springs in July to survey damage and meet with first responders and other local officials. The FS has also opened a public comment opportunity to seek input on its broader forest conservation efforts. The comment period ends Aug. 13. For more information, click here. To view the National Interagency Fire Center’s recently released National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for July – October 2012, click here.  BUDGET: ESA JOINS EFFORT TO PREVENT NONDEFENSE DISCRETIONARY CUTS On July 12, the Ecological Society of America joined nearly 3,000 national, state and local organizations in signing a letter to Members of Congress requesting that they take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending. The organizations are representative of a wide breath of fields that benefit from federal NDD programs including science, education, health and civil rights. The letter comes ahead of a potential across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending in Jan. 2013 that the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) stipulates. Under the current law, the $1.2 trillion in cuts would come 50 percent from defense spending and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending. The letter notes the important role NDD programs play and urges Congress to work to reduce the deficit in a manner that prevents further significant cuts to these programs. “In total, if Congress and the President fail to act, between fiscal 2010 and 2021 NDD programs will have been cut by 20 percent overall. Such indiscriminate cuts...

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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: June 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE COMMITTEE MOVES AGRICULTURE, INTERIOR SPENDING BILLS  This month, the House Appropriations Committee has continued work on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 spending bills. Most recently, it has released legislation funding environmental and agricultural federal programs. On June 19, the committee approved its Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013. That day, the committee also released its FY 2013 Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which was marked up by subcommittee the following day. Agriculture In total, the Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $19.4 billion in discretionary spending, a $365 million reduction from FY 2012 and $1.7 billion less than Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, would be funded at $2.5 billion, a $35 million reduction from FY 2012. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $812 million, a $16 million decrease from FY 2012. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $787 million, $33 million below FY 2012. A funding program to help farmers make environmental improvement on their lands was cut by $500 million compared to the current farm bill’s authorized levels. Interior The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for FY 2013 contains $28 billion in funding, a cut of $1.2 billion below FY 2012 and $1.7 billion below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The bill funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service and related environmental initiatives. EPA funding undergoes a particularly high number of cuts in the House bill. The bill funds EPA at $7 billion, a $1.4 billion (17 percent) cut from FY 2012. This brings total funding in the bill below FY 1998 levels. The legislation continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the lowest number since 1992 and cuts the office of the EPA administrator by over 30 percent. The EPA Congressional Affairs office receives a 50 percent cut. For additional information on the Agriculture bill, click here. For additional information on the Interior bill, click here. OSTP: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE HOUSE PRIORITIES On June 20, 2012, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hosted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren for a hearing entitled “Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies.” During the hearing several Republicans inquired if the U.S. was maintaining investment in certain areas, including space technology and high-energy physics, relative to other countries. Holdren responded that the U.S. remains “on the cutting edge” and “unmatched”...

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Scientists discuss federal role in hydraulic fracturing research

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst   The issue of hydraulic fracturing, a fairly new energy production method, has spurred intense debate, in part due unfamiliarity with the overall process. Recently on Capitol Hill, a group of federal scientists discussed their research in an attempt to inform the ongoing policy debate by Republicans and Democrats in Congress. On June 9, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) sponsored a briefing entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing: the State of Science.” During the briefing, federal scientists highlighted recent research  findings on  hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and also touched on  potential ecological impacts of the process. The speakers noted that while information to date suggests that the overall process is safe with proper monitoring efforts, additional research is needed to quantify its long-term effects. Speakers noted that groundwater contamination from imperfect cementing, existing wells, cracks in rock and levels of seismic activity are all variables that present some potential environmental risk factors of fracking. Brenda Pierce, Coordinator for the Energy Resources Program at USGS, discussed the program’s lead role in assessing energy resources for the onshore United States.  She  noted that assessments of recoverable energy resources change over time due to technological advancements and improved geologic understanding, among other factors. Rick Hammack, Natural Systems Monitoring Coordinator for the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory discussed the multifaceted role his agency and others, including the USGS, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, play in monitoring the environmental impacts of shale gas development. Hammack stressed that the overall process takes five years, including one year of scientific study before fracking begins, several years of monitoring and assessment during energy production and a period of assessment after production is completed. Consequently, Hammack noted, it may be some time before we have a full picture of the environmental impacts from fracking and continued investment in research is important. Bill Leith, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquakes and Hazards at USGS, touched on the research USGS, other federal agencies and universities are conducting to better understand human-induced seismic activity from oil and gas production. Noting that mid-continent earthquakes have increased significantly in recent years, Leith clarified that the risk is manageable and that the fracking process itself has not triggered an earthquake large enough to raise safety concerns. Leith’s presentation, however, noted that the subsequent wastewater injection, which transmits wastewater from fracking into deep disposal wells, can cause earthquakes large enough to be felt and cause damage, though only a small fraction have caused earthquakes large enough to be of public concern. Leith believes that further research...

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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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