Congressmen Lipinski, Reichert lauded for commitment to biological research

Representatives Daniel Lipinski (D-Illinois) and Dave Reichert (R-Washington) are the recipients of the 2013 Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Leadership Award.  The award is given to recognize congressional leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to promoting public policy that advances the nation’s scientific research enterprise. “We are fortunate to have two such strong supporters of the natural sciences in Congress,” said Nadine Lymn, co-chair of BESC and director of public affairs for the Ecological Society of America.  “Representatives Lipinski and Reichert have repeatedly demonstrated that they value the contributions of biology and other sciences to society and believe that sustaining the nation’s research and technology enterprise is a worthy investment.” Lipinski is the Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Research.  He sponsored the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010, which authorized increased funding for the National Science Foundation; the legislation became part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law in 2011.  Lipinski is a vocal supporter of the use of prizes to stimulate innovation, and successfully amended U.S. law to allow federal agencies to award cash prizes to innovators.  The congressman is also a co-chair of the House Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Education Caucus, and a member of the Congressional Research and Development Caucus. Reichert has worked actively to conserve the wild areas of Washington state and the nation.  A former member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, he sponsored a resolution that recognized the contributions of female scientists.  Reichert was one of only 17 House Republicans to support the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.  He is co-chair of the National Parks Caucus and National Landscape Conservation Caucus, and a member of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus and Wild Salmon Caucus.  Reichert is chair of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Representatives Lipinski and Reichert are steadfast advocates for scientific research, particularly at the National Science Foundation,” said BESC co-chair Robert Gropp, director of public policy at the American Institute of Biological Sciences.  “They both appreciate that research drives innovation, contributes to the solution of complex problems, and will help drive new economic growth.” The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) is an alliance of organizations united by a concern for every aspect of the biology of the natural world, from agricultural systems to zoology.  BESC supports the goal of increasing the nation’s investment in the non-medical biological sciences across all federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the National...

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Educators & scientists to swap ideas for a robust biology classroom

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Say you’re a plant biologist who wants to devise educational components for your research project but you’re not sure what might work well for high school students.  Or say you’re a high school biology teacher looking to ramp up how you challenge your students with the latest research findings and tools.  Enter the upcoming Life Discovery Conference, which will bring about 120 educators and scientists together to enrich biology education for high school and undergraduate students. Organized by a consortium of four scientific societies with a collective membership of nearly 20,000, the inaugural conference will take place at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, from March 15-16, 2013.  The conference is part of the consortium’s Digital Resource Discovery project, led by Teresa Mourad, Director of Education and Diversity Programs at the Ecological Society of America. “This will really be a small working conference,” said Jeff Corney, conference local host and managing director of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.  “It’s structured to promote the use of digital resources and new technologies, publish classroom-friendly resources in LifeDiscoveryEd Digital Library and emphasize research-rich biology education.” Peer working groups will give educators feedback on lesson plans or activities during education share fair roundtables held during the conference. “Our vision is to offer a session format where educators and scientists can present their digital resources to their peers for feedback by submitting a draft entry into the digital library,” explains Corney. “We hope that in this manner, they will quickly understand the issues for high quality education and incorporate suggestions and ideas by their peers.” Another goal envisioned by the partnering organizations is to encourage communities of practice. “We really want to foster greater interaction between educators and scientists,” said Thomas Meagher, Conference Planning Chair and professor at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. “These groups have so much to learn from each other and together can greatly enhance our mutual desire for greater hands-on, data-driven biology in the classrooms.” In addition to the education share fair roundtables, the conference will include keynote presentations and panel discussions from a wide range of educators and scientists, such as Jay Labov, Senior Advisor for Education and Communication for the National Academy of Sciences, Nancy Geving, a high school science coach for St. Paul public schools and Gillian Roehrig, with the University of Minnesota’s STEM Education Center. Workshops and short presentations geared to enhance understanding of key concepts and active learning techniques will also take place both days. Among the topics: using technology to connect students and scientific data, solving engineering problems in nature, using mathematical modeling to...

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Sandy reminds us science plays a role in safety too

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst As noted in a previous EcoTone post, science plays an important role in hurricane monitoring efforts. The collaborative work of the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) help to monitor water levels in our nation’s waterways, landscape changes and warn local communities of impending natural disasters. As Hurricane Sandy, the most recent violent weather event to hit the nation highlighted, the livelihoods of millions of Americans are dependent upon these agencies to function quickly and effectively. This rapid response capability would severely be jeopardized by impending discretionary spending cuts set to take effect in January. The White House recently released a report outlining the likely impact these cuts would have on these programs. Overall, critical non-defense discretionary programs would receive an across-the-board 8.2 percent cut. USGS funding would be cut by an estimated $88 million. These cuts would severely hamper the agency’s ability to monitor land and water changes before and after an extreme weather event. Prior to Sandy’s landfall, USGS deployed over 150 storm-surge sensors along the mid-Atlantic coast that measure water elevation at 30 second intervals. The information gathered from these sensors will help the agency assess storm damage and forecast future coastal change. Just this week, the agency issued a landslide alert for parts of DC, Maryland, Southern Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia. For NOAA the cuts could mean a $182 million reduction for its weather satellite programs, which could exacerbate the potential for serious gaps in weather collection data. According to a recent report spearheaded by the Wilderness Society, the cuts would also lead to reductions in NOAA’s coastal management program, resulting in layoffs for coastal management practitioners and scientists, which would impede habitat restoration efforts for our nation’s coasts and wetlands.  Data collected by NOAA’s National Weather Service help inform disaster response efforts, coordinated at the national level by FEMA. We sometimes overlook the fact that many non-defense environmental science agencies like NOAA and USGS also play critical roles in protecting Americans. Photo credit: David...

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Health, ed, enviro, sci communities prep for fiscal cliff #NDDUnited

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Yesterday’s second town hall meeting of the Non Defense Discretionary (NDD) coalition, drew an audience of 400 and featured two representatives from the Obama Adminstration.  Jon Carson, who does public outreach for the White House and Robert Gordon, Acting Deputy Director of the White Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The two reviewed the Administration’s position on the upcoming fiscal cliff.  Many in Washington, DC refer to the pending expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts plus the planned federal budget cuts as the “fiscal cliff” and unless Congress takes action, it will occur on January 1, 2013. Carson’s overall message to the assembled group was to encourage them to continue to demonstrate the value of federal programs and their connection to local communities across the country. Gordon noted that the upcoming OMB transparency report related to the budget sequestration and scheduled to be released still this week, would be an enormous but not surprising document; it will not “change the fact that cuts will threaten national security and critical investments here at home.” Some in the large audience–which included represenatives from the public health, education, environmental and science communities, asked that the Obama Administration encourage federal agencies to supply more information about how they would be affected by the pending cuts. When asked if the President would veto a bill that would delay the sequester, Gordon declared that he would. While there are many scenarious, no one knows how Congress and the Administration will ultimately deal with the national debt crisis. All everyone seems to agree on is that it will not be dealt with until after the General Election. As anyone following the news is well aware, the two parties have been in gridlock and have starkly different visions of the best way to address the nation’s debt crisis.  The NDD Coalition continues to push for a “balanced” approach that would avoid further cuts to NDD programs, which have already taken large cuts; NDD funding is at historically low levels not seen since the 1950s. Yet even so, word on Capitol Hill is that Members of Congress and their staff continue to hear from the Defense community and from constituents encouraging them to continue to slash NDD programs.  They are still not hearing much from those of us in the NDD community. A few weeks ago, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Mathematical Society teamed up to craft an action alert to our respective members, urging them to make their voices heard to their congressional representatives.  To date, only about 1300...

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Lubchenco: “This is the time of ecology”

By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst During the opening plenary of ESA’s 97th Annual Meeting, attendees witnessed firsthand the power individuals working together have to make things happen in their communities. The plenary kicked off with the presentation of the Society’s 2012 Regional Policy Award to Ken Bierly of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board who was “greatly honored” and “deeply appreciative” of the award. Bierly thanked a host of individuals he had worked with who played a pivotal role in “helping us to manage our environment in a meaningful way.” His work on freshwater resources in the state of Oregon has helped to restore marshes and streams as well as protect water quality in rivers and streams, which help sustain fish and wildlife habitat and preserve natural resources that human communities depend on. The  keynote address was given by Jane Lubchenco, Administrator for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Lubchenco asserted that “this is the time of ecology.”  Referring to scientists who are engaged in policy, Lubchenco likened the process to a relay race where scientists ‘pass the baton’ to one another, noting that this is necessary to sustain engagement and community networking over time.  Lubchenco dedicated her presentation to Elinor Ostrom who once stated “the goal now must be to  build sustainability into the DNA of our globally interconnected society. Time is the natural resource in shortest supply.”  Although Ostrom was an economist,  Lubchenco cited her as “an ecologist by thinking,” and discussed how her research highlighted how ordinary people working collectively could be successful in driving positive change in their communities. In her speech, Lubchenco outlined NOAA’s many initiatives, including a National Ocean Policy that streamlines the responsibilities of several dozen federal bureaus, restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, fisheries management that is influenced by science, and a climate adaption strategy to help mitigate impacts of climate change. She further noted that, during her tenure, the agency has reformed the National Climate Assessment to increase public input. There is also legislation underway to reestablish a Chief Scientist at NOAA, who could be appointed without Senate confirmation, a condition that has left the position vacant for the past 16 years. Noting that NOAA is the nation’s oldest scientific agency in the federal government, Lubchenco touted NOAA’s position as being at the forefront of agencies that use science to inform policy. Lubchenco mentioned that the agency has begun work on its own scientific integrity policy before the president issued his call for all federal agencies to promote scientific integrity throughout the executive branch.  She also touted the importance of “use-inspired research” that has tangible and direct benefits to communities and asserted that...

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Time to Restore Balance

By Terence Houston, science policy analyst and Nadine Lymn, director of public affairs Yesterday afternoon, several hundred individuals from organizations representing education, science, and other communities that make up the non-defense discretionary (NDD) part of the federal budget held a rally on Capitol Hill.  Their objective: to raise awareness that unless Congress takes action, across-the-board federal spending cuts are slated to go into effect on January 2, 2013 as mandated by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). Speakers called for both political parties to come together and focus on a consensus bipartisan solution towards bringing down the national debt. Senator Tom Harkin (photo on right), who chairs the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, asserted that it is “time to restore balance to the conversation.” The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) projects that implementation of these cuts, also referred to as sequestration, could lead to the loss of over one million jobs in the United States between 2013 and 2014. In its report entitled “Indefensible: The Sequester’s Mechanics and Adverse Effects on National and Economic Security,” BPC notes that even if implemented, the sequester will ultimately prove ineffective in the long run, delaying by only two years the date when publicly- held United States debt surpasses 100 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. “Our unsustainable fiscal situation is driven by health care inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue,” the report notes. “Yet the sequester does nothing to address these problems, instead cutting almost exclusively from defense and non-defense discretionary spending, which are already projected to decline substantially as a percentage of the economy over the coming decade.” Consequently, instead of functioning as a meaningful debt reduction, the sequestration will take a machete to vital discretionary programs including cuts to scientific research ($1.1 billion), special education ($1.1 billion), air transportation security and traffic control ($1.6 billion), disaster relief ($0.7 billion) and disease control ($0.5 billion) with negligible long-term benefits and very significant immediate consequences for Americans. The BPC report reinforces the reality that meaningful deficit reduction must include a focus on revenue reforms and mandatory spending programs as initially suggested by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction effort. Additional speakers at the rally included House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA), City of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Knott Mechanical President  Martin G. Knott Jr., and Rita Ngabo, a social worker and single mother. The rally was...

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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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Talking Urban Ecology at the USA Science Festival

By Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Families with young children, teenagers, older adults, teachers, and even a pair of young Army soldiers visited ESA’s booth over the weekend of April 28 and 29 at the USA Science & Engineering Festival and learned about the ecology of Washington, DC and its nearby suburbs. Some were drawn immediately to the terrarium which housed mysterious creatures.  Never mind that they weren’t colorful or furry—children and adults alike wanted to know what was inside and some even accepted our invitation to move around the stones and moss to discover what might be hiding underneath.  Others strode up to ESA’s urban ecology game poster and wanted to know what the creature with the enormous eyes was (a jumping spider) or announced that they knew that image number four was a “roly-poly.”  Some immediately knew that the old painting depicted on our game poster was the White House but were perplexed by the creek and marsh birds they also saw in the painting. ESA President Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, George Middendorf of Howard University and two of his students and several ESA staff worked the ESA booth this past Saturday and Sunday, highlighting various aspects of the ecology taking place in urban environments.  For example, they explained that the stream flowing by the White House in the 1820s was Tiber Creek and that it is one of three streams that were buried to develop the land above and provide sewer channels below. Many visitors to ESA’s booth had heard that Washington, DC had been built on a swamp.  But the real story and reason that the nation’s capital contends with flooding issues is that it lies in a floodplain, at the confluence of two rivers (Potomac and Anacostia) and atop three buried streams (Tiber Creek, James Creek, and Slash Run).  In fact, collectively, multiple federal buildings pump over a million gallons of water a day from their basements. ESA’s terrarium inhabitants—centipedes, a spider dashing around with her eggcase, earthworms, pill-bugs and beetle were also popular with visitors.  In addition to learning about some of the small animals living in urban and suburban settings, visitors also learned that coyotes and red-tailed hawks have learned how to live in big cities, including Washington, DC.  Some mistook the coyote image for a fox or a wolf and some thought the red-tailed hawk was an owl, but they knew they were predators and were often surprised to learn that they have adapted to life in close proximity to humans.  The coyotes in Rock Creek Park, in the heart of Washington, DC, drag...

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