ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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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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ESA Policy News: April 20

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CJS BILLS SUPPORT SCIENCE, SENATE TRANSFERS SATELLITES TO NASA The week of April 16, both the House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittees approved their respective funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. In total, the House CJS appropriations bill would provide $51.1 billion to all agencies under its jurisdiction, a reduction of $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 below the president’s request. The Senate bill would fund all agencies under its jurisdiction at $51.862 billion, a $1 billion reduction from FY 2012.  While the House bill’s funding levels are overall less than the Senate, both chambers supported increases in key science agencies in comparison to the current fiscal year. The Senate CJS bill would also move funding for weather satellite procurement from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). There has been bipartisan, bicameral criticism directed at NOAA’s costly satellites. According to Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the move would save $117 million in FY 2013 and reduce duplicative federal activities. Enclosed are funding levels for key science bureaus outlined within the House and Senate bills: The National Science Foundation House: $7.333 billion, an increase of $299 over FY 2012. Senate: $7.273 billion, an increase of $240 million over FY 2012. NASA House: $17.6 billion, $226 million below FY 2012 Senate: $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over FY 2012. (*The increase is due to the bill’s provision transferring weather satellite procurement from NOAA to NASA. Absent these funds, the bill would mean a $41.5 million cut for NASA. NOAA House: $5 billion, $68 million above FY 2012 Senate: $3.4 billion, $1.47 billion below FY 2012 For additional information on the Senate CJS bill, click here. For additional information on the House CJS bill, click here.  APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE RELEASES FY 2013 ENERGY AND WATER BILL On April 17, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill, which funds federal programs for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, would be funded at $32.1 billion, $965 million less than the president’s request, yet a slight increase from FY 2012. Department of Energy (DOE) – DOE would receive $26.3 billion, $365 million less than FY 2012. DOE environmental management activities would be funded at $5.5 billion, $166 million below FY 2012. The bill increases funding for nuclear security by $300 million from FY 2012 and would direct funding...

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ESA Policy News: President’s FY 2013 Budget Special Edition

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: FY 2013 BUDGET PRIORITIZES INNOVATION AMIDST FISCAL AUSTERITY On Feb. 13, President Obama released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins Oct. 1, 2012. While the $3.8 trillion budget continues the president’s focus on fiscal discipline with significant cuts to environmental initiatives, it also contains a wish list of proposed boosts for science and research programs intended to foster job creation. In his message to Congress, the president maintained that investment in innovation is needed to help the economy recover.  Revenue provisions of the proposed budget that would pay for increased funding by ending certain tax breaks for oil companies raising taxes on wealthy individuals are expected to be blocked by Congressional Republicans. The budget highlights investments in clean energy as well as research and development (R&D) increases for most agencies. Overall, the president’s budget proposes $140.8 billion for federal R&D, an increase of $2 billion (or 1.2 percent) over the current FY 2012 enacted level. The budget also proposes $3 billion for Science Technology Education and Mathematics programs across federal agencies, a 2.6 percent increase over FY 2012 enacted levels. Additional information on the president’s FY 2013 budget request can be found here. SCIENCE: ADMINISTRATION INCREASES SUPPORT FOR NSF, RELATED PROGRAMS The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only federal agency that provides funding for basic research across all fields of science and engineering.   Accordingly, the president’s FY 2013 budget request includes $7.4 billion for NSF, a 4.8 percent increase over the current enacted level for FY 2012. This includes a request for $5.98 billion for Research and Related Activities, an increase from $5.69 billion in FY 2012. NSF funding currently supports research at 1,875 colleges, universities and institutions and supports the research of an estimated 276,000 people. The Directorate for Biological Sciences would receive $733.86 million dollars in FY 2013 under the president’s budget, an increase from $712.38 million in FY 2012. This includes $220.52 million for Integrative Organismal Systems (3.9 percent increase), $143.73 million for Environmental Biology (0.8 percent increase) and $129.68 million (2.8 percent increase) for Biological Infrastructure. ENVIRONMENT: KEY CONSERVATION AGENCIES SEE MIX OF INVESTMENTS, CUTS Overall, President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request seeks to balance continued investment in natural resource conservation efforts with a political climate that continues to prioritize fiscal restraint. EPA The president’s proposed FY 2013 budget recommends $8.3 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a decrease of $105 million (1.2 percent) compared with FY 2012. The decrease marks the third consecutive year in which the administration...

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Recalibrating expectations for U.S. science

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Spoiler alert: this is not an upbeat post, although it does offer a few hopeful spots… As many in the ecological community already know, obtaining monetary support for conducting research is tough.  The number one federal agency that supports fundamental research in ecology is the National Science Foundation (NSF), funding about 65 percent of ecological research conducted at U.S. research institutions.  Many other agencies, from the Forest Service to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also play important roles in supporting ecological science, although mostly through their own agency scientists. At NSF, the Biology Directorate has long been one of the most competitive, with a grant proposal success rate that now hovers around only 10 percent.  Ecologists have enjoyed support from other federal agencies, but those budgets are also sloping downhill.  Foundations, which also have provided support to the ecological community, are themselves facing financially harder times.  Things have gotten to the point that some older ecologists are candidly saying that they can’t in good faith recommend to students to go into the field of ecology due to the bleak outlook for making a decent living.  The situation seems unlikely to get better anytime soon. As anyone following recent policy developments knows, a gloomy budget environment is clouding outlooks in Washington, DC.  Although many agencies, including NSF, have managed to keep their budgets fairly intact for the current fiscal year, the specter of cuts is getting closer—when the Budget Control Act kicks in to slash both defense and civilian budgets. Yesterday’s, ScienceLive featured a chat with two long-time Washington science policy insiders, Michael Stephens (Association of Schools of Public Health) and Joel Widder (The Oldaker Law Group), who shared their opinions of what might be in store and responded to online questions.  Both said that NSF and the National Institutes of Health, as agencies supporting basic research, enjoy support by both Congress and the Administration.  But Stephens and Widder acknowledged that a world in which flat or declining budgets become the norm will present federal agencies with serious challenges on how to allocate their limited resources. In response to a question about the role of politics in science, Widder stated that: “As long as the federal government is going to spend in excess of $130 billion on research and development annually, and taxpayers will be the ultimate source of that money, politics will be an inherent part of the science funding enterprise.”  Stephens pointed out that overall the amount of “political meddling” in science is minimal and that with a few exceptions, science remains well respected.  “And I...

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‘Threatened’ no more: the Lake Erie watersnake’s road to recovery

This month, the Lake Erie watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) was finally removed from the list of organisms protected under the Endangered Species Act. The achievement is a win for both the species and the ecosystem in which it plays a vital role. With one of the smallest geographic ranges of any vertebrate in the world, this subspecies of snake is only found on the islands of Lake Erie, located in east-central North America. Primarily active between early May and October, depending on temperatures and weather conditions, these non-venomous reptiles spend the warmer months dwelling around the cliffs and rocky shorelines of the lake’s limestone islands. During winters, the snakes hibernate underground. Unlike other Nerodia subspecies, whose coloration varies, the Lake Erie watersnakes have a uniform gray coloring and grow from 1.5- to 3.5-feet long. At the time of its initial listing, the species was threatened by intentional killing and loss of its natural habitat to shoreline development. However, roughly 300 acres of surrounding habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was first listed as “threatened” on August 30, 1999. Shortly after its listing, the federal government began intensive monitoring efforts of the species, including public outreach programs to promote awareness of the snake and provide information on its important role in the local ecosystem. In September 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finalized a recovery plan that called for protecting its remaining habitat and providing further outreach to reduce threats to the species. In cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and other partners, biologists also worked to minimize threats to the snake through implementing conservation efforts. Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat. Through this successful collaboration between government and the local community, the Lake Erie watersnake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. FWS first declared its intention to delist the snake in June 2010. The perpetuation of the species has been critical to the Lake Erie region. During the 1990s, the round goby – an aggressive invasive fish that out-competes native fishes for food, shelter, and nesting sites – established itself in the Great Lakes and caused substantial declines of many native fish populations. These gobies have also been found to carry 25 species of parasites. The predatory Lake Erie watersnakes have helped maintain balance in the ecosystem by keeping the population of invasive gobies in check. Today, 90 percent of the watersnake’s diet is round goby, with the remainder composed of mudpuppies...

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Policy News: April 8

  Here are some highlights form the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: NO COMPROMISE IN SIGHT HOURS BEFORE POTENTIAL SHUTDOWN As of the morning of Friday, April 8, repeated meetings at the White House fostered no definitive agreement between House and Senate leaders to fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. Lawmakers and the president have until Friday evening at midnight to avoid a shutdown of the federal government. On Thursday, April 7, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1363, a bill that would fund the Department of Defense through the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011 and fund all other federal agencies for an additional week through April 15. The legislation would cut discretionary spending by $12 billion. It also includes language that would bar the District of Columbia from using local government funds to pay for abortion services. The bill passed by a vote of 247-181. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) offered an alternative measure that would provide a clean extension of government spending at current levels for an additional week. The measure came to a vote and failed completely along party lines 236-187. The abortion restrictions, which serve to rally conservative House Republicans, ultimately helped doom the bill’s chances of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to offer an amended Senate version of the House one-week extension, similar to Hoyer’s measure. In the process of considering the latest funding bill, the House Rules Committee voted to waive a requirement included in House Rules stating that a measure must be introduced three days before it is considered on the House floor. The temporary rule gives the Speaker of the House additional capacity to avert or shorten a government shutdown. While both President Obama and Congressional leaders seem to agree that talks were “progressing” as of Thursday evening, no definitive number or compromise had yet been reached. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on the White House to sign the temporary funding measure. However, President Obama reaffirmed his veto threat against the bill. Majority Leader Reid blamed the stalemate on a partisan dispute over Planned Parenthood and other controversial riders that were included in the House-passed bill. As of April 8, the numerical differences amounted to $5 billion, roughly 0.14 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual budget. Speaker Boehner is pushing for a deal that would include about $39 billion in spending cuts compared to fiscal year (FY) 2010. Reid and Obama are pushing for about $34 billion in cuts, although there have also been recent...

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Citizens first, scientists second: The argument for advocacy

Attention, ecologists. Have you ever wondered how to reconcile the supposed objectivity of the scientific profession with the urge to speak up as an ecologist and say something about environmental protection? Or have you avoided the topic, thinking that advocacy for a cause would undermine your credibility as a scientist? In a new paper online in Conservation Biology (abstract only; subscription required), Michael Nelson, an environmental ethicist at Michigan State, and John Vucetich, a wildlife ecologist at Michigan Technological University, get together to say that as citizens first and scientists second, scientists “have a responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities and in a justified and transparent manner.” The authors  then go on to debunk the logic of many reasons not to advocate — and, interestingly, one reason why scientists should advocate (#4). (1) Advocacy compromises the credibility of the scientist and the field of science as a whole (2) Advocacy conflicts with the essential nature of science, which is to objectively observe phenomena and report facts in an impartial manner (3) In a practical sense, advocacy simply takes too much time away from scientists’ real job of doing science (4) Science and advocacy are both value-based processes, and are therefore alike. The only two logically sound arguments that emerge, say the researchers, are the social harm that might result if scientists, who are the true experts, don’t advocate; and the fact that researchers are citizens first and scientists second, and therefore have an obligation to advocate. They write: “According to this argument scientists, by virtue of being citizens first and scientists second, have a  responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities and in a justified and transparent manner. Importantly arguments against science advocacy are valuable for offering insight about how one should or should not be an advocate, not whether one should advocate.” That’s all well and good; they didn’t need to convince this blogger that scientists should advocate. But at the end of their paper they throw in an interesting twist: “Broad participation, however, will undoubtedly result in disagreement among good scientists and in some scientists advocating in an unjustified and dishonest manner. Thus broad participation will substantially complicate the policy-making process.” So even though they prove with logical arguments that scientists should advocate, here they say that if everyone advocated, mass confusion would result in the halls of our lawmaking bretheren, defeating the purpose of the exercise?  But, say the authors: “Although this might seem undesirable, our goal here should not be simplicity but rather the betterment of society.” It seems like a highly unlikely issue, that the world would have so...

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