Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms
Apr03

Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms

Wildfire is the predominant cause of habitat loss in the Great Basin. Reseeding burned land to stabilize soils has not restored sagebrush habitat for the endangered greater sage grouse, according to a report in the journal Ecosphere. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering protecting the grouse under the Endangered Species act, which could affect the management of 250,000 square miles of land in the western US.

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Prescribed burns can aid in efforts to reduce severity of wildfires
Nov15

Prescribed burns can aid in efforts to reduce severity of wildfires

Forest fires have a tendency to evoke images of Smoky the Bear warnings or Bambi and company fleeing for their lives. However, often underreported are the benefits prescribed forest fires can have on ecosystems and human communities. This summer, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) published its first online-only special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, which examined the impacts of prescribed burning in North America in addition to several other locations around the world. Prescribed burns are meant to mimic the impact of natural fires, caused by lightning, or the smaller intentional fires traditionally produced by Native Americans. In the last century, fire suppression activities have focused on the protection of property and keeping parks pretty, dramatically diminishing fire frequency throughout the West. As a consequence, ecosystems change. Species that evolved with fire lose their competitive edge. Dense growth fills the forest understory, savannas become forests, and brush clogs grasslands.  When forest fires do occur, they are often more intense, more damaging and more costly to mitigate, thanks to the extra fuel. Prescribed burns reduce fire intensity by reducing tree density in a forest ecosystem. Prescribed burns also curtail the proliferation of fire-sensitive species, helping to promote species diversity in an ecosystem. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Rapid Response Team member Matthew Hurteau discusses his research on wildfires. Hurteau’s research focuses on the various ways in which climate change exacerbates fire risk, due to warming temperatures and longer more frequent droughts. Hurteau explained the benefits of prescribed burns during a visit with policymakers on Capitol Hill. For much of the past ten years, the US Forest Service has had to borrow from other agency accounts in order to cover expenses of mitigating wildfires, which have increased in frequency in recent years. According to testimony before Congress from USFS Chief Tom Tidwell, fire suppression activities as a share of the agency’s total budget has burgeoned from 13 percent in Fiscal Year (FY) 1991 to 40 percent in FY 2012. Given the demonstrated capability of prescribed burns to reduce the risk, and consequently the costly damage, of severe wildfires, implementing such ecologically friendly practices nationwide could not only help save lives and protect natural resources, but also help key natural resource agencies stay on budget. Photo Credit: Steve McKelvey: US Forest...

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ESA Policy News: November 11: President’s climate action plan, farm bill compromise and FS funding shortfalls
Nov11

ESA Policy News: November 11: President’s climate action plan, farm bill compromise and FS funding shortfalls

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: NEW EXECUTIVE ORDER BUILDS ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN On Nov. 1, President Obama issued a new broad Executive Order, instructing federal agencies to help states strengthen their ability to cope with increasingly intense storms, severe droughts, wildfires and other various effects of climate change. The Executive Order establishes a Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the administration on how the federal government can respond to state and local concerns across the country on how to increase climate change preparedness. The task force will be comprised of governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other officials from across the country. The Executive Order instructs federal agencies to improve dissemination of tools to address climate change and help local communities to construct natural disaster-resilient infrastructure and natural resource and ecosystem resiliency. The order also establishes a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, involving 20 federal offices that will be charged with implementing the Executive Order. The council will be co-chaired by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. View the full Executive Order here. A special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment assesses the impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems this November, and includes an article on preparing for future environmental flux. To view the special issue, click here. SCIENCE: LAWMAKERS REVIEW LEGISLATION TO REAUTHORIZE AMERICA COMPETES ACT On Oct. 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened a hearing to consider a draft bill to partially reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, legislation to increase US federal investment in scientific research and innovation. However, there was debate among committee members over whether funding authorized in the bill was sufficient. The Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy in America (EINSTEIN) Act, the draft bill under consideration, would set science priorities for the Department of Energy (DOE). “The discussion draft requires the Department of Energy to coordinate with other federal agencies to streamline workplace regulations. This reduces burdensome red tape and provides the National Labs flexibility to more effectively and efficiently execute the Department’s mission,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). Committee Democrats, however, expressed concerns with how the bill funds the DOE Office of Science.  “At first glance, one might think that the Majority’s bill actually increases funding for the Office, but a closer look reveals that they are actually cutting funding – the rate of inflation for research is...

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ESA Policy News: October 24
Oct24

ESA Policy News: October 24

Government shutdown ends, water bill action, FWS proposes cuckoo E.S.A. listing, rejects petrel.

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ESA Policy News: July 12
Jul12

ESA Policy News: July 12

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS SCIENCE INVESTMENT On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key science agencies for the coming fiscal year. In total, the CJS bill includes $47.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.8 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level and $350 million below FY 2013 when accounting for implementation of sequestration. House Republicans have been drafting legislation under the assumption that sequestration will continue through Fiscal Year 2014. Coupled with the fact that they are simultaneously seeking to boost Department of Defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending programs are set to undergo even further spending declines if their bills are enacted. For the first time in years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a significant reduction in funding under the bill compare to the enacted level in the previous fiscal year. NSF would receive $7 billion in FY 2014, $259 million below the enacted level in 2013 pre-sequestration and $631 million below the president’s budget request.  Other key science agencies under the jurisdiction of the bill include: • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.9 billion, $89 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $16.6 billion, $928 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. For additional information on the bill, click here. DOE: REPORT LINKS CLIMATE CHANGE TO ENERGY SECTOR RISKS On July 11, the US Department of Energy released a report entitled US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.” The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s climate speech last month and highlights detrimental effects climate change is having on US energy production. Among its findings, the report notes coastal energy infrastructure is particularly susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise and that drought could negatively affect hydraulic fracturing efforts. The report cites that heat waves have led to shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The report also points to threats to oil and gas production in the Arctic from infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost. It also notes that violent storms in recent years have on several occasions led to massive power losses across several states. Among suggested methods of adapting to climate change, the report calls for “the deployment of energy technologies that are more climate-resilient, assessment of vulnerabilities in the energy sector, adaptation planning efforts, and policies that can facilitate these efforts.” View the...

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ESA Policy News: October 12

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.  EDUCATION: SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN REQUESTS GAO REVIEW OF REGULATORY IMPEDIMENTS TO UNIVERSITY RESEARCH  On Oct. 3, House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of regulatory actions that may hinder research at the nation’s universities. The letter comes following  a recent report from the National Research Council of the National Academies entitled Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to our Nation’s Prosperity and Security. Among its recommendations was a call to “reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment.” The National Academies report also recommends raising government, industry and philanthropy support for Research and Development (R&D) to three percent of Growth Domestic Product, fully funding the America COMPETES Act and “doubling the level of basic research conducted by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.” To view Rep. Brooks’ letter, click here. The full National Academies report and a PDF summary is available here. FORESTS: SUPREME COURT SUSTAINS ROADLESS RULE On Oct. 1, the United States Supreme Court stated it would not review a Clinton administration roadless rule that protects 45 million acres of national forest from road construction and logging. The decision ends a decade of legal challenges that began when the rule was first finalized in January 2001. Petitioners had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decision last year by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Clinton rule and reversed a US district judge’s determination that the rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Petitioners included the state of Wyoming, the Colorado Mining Association and the American Petroleum Institute. After the ruling, Gov. Matt Mead stated that while he had concerns about what the decision would mean for economic opportunity in his state, he intends to work collaboratively with the US Forest Service to address these issues. INTERIOR: NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ADVISERS The US Department of Interior (DOI) is seeking nominations for a new panel to be composed of outside scientific experts to help inform the agency’s work on the impacts of climate change on natural resources. Those nominated would serve on DOI’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. The committee will advise the US Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC)...

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ESA Policy News: September 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: NEW REPORT OUTLINES SEQUESTRATION IMPACTS ON SCIENCE On Sept. 27, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published a report outlining the impacts of budget sequestration on federal science funding. Established under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), the budget sequestration, set to go into effect on January 2, 2013, would shave $55 billion in defense spending and $38 billion in non-defense discretionary spending. Within these numbers, Department of Defense Research and Development (R&D) would lose an average of $6.7 billion per year for the next five years. The National Science Foundation would lose $456 million in FY 2013 and a total of $2.1 billion over the next five years. Over the same five-year period, funding for R&D at the Departments of Agriculture (-$875 million), Energy (-$4.585 billion) Interior (-$299 million), the National Aeronautics Space Administration (-$3.527 billion) and the Environmental Protection Agency (-$213 million) would also be drastically reduced. Last month, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the American Mathematical Society crafted an action alert encouraging their members to contact their representatives to let them know the devastating impacts budget sequester would have on research in the communities they represent. To go to the AIBS Legislative Action page where you’ll find more information on the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration as well as a letter to Members of Congress, click here. To view the full AAAS report, click here. AGRICULTURE: HOUSE LEADERSHIP PUNTS FARM BILL TO LAME DUCK SESSION On Sept. 21, the House adjourned for the fall and will not convene again until after the November elections. The month-long October district work period has become typical in modern presidential election years. However, this year differs from four years ago in that Congress has chosen to adjourn without taking up an extension of the farm bill. The most recent reauthorization of the agricultural law, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act (P.L. 110-234), was passed by a Democratic House and Senate and signed by a Republican president in June 2008. Four years later, while Senate leaders passed a bill to reauthorize the nation’s food and agricultural programs, the House has failed to take up such a measure. House Speaker John Boehner cited the splintered factions on the both sides of the aisle as rationale enough to assume the bill cannot obtain the 218 vote threshold necessary to clear the chamber. The Senate bill passed this June with a bipartisan vote of 64-35, including the support of Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry...

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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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