ESA Policy News: July 12
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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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UNEP stakeholders’ conference prioritizes sustainability issues

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  Last week’s  United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation in Washington, DC focused on how to implement sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past June.  It was noted during the meeting that – in the time since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio 20 years ago – countries, NGOs and private corporations now recognize that the environment is critical to sustainable development. The meeting’s keynote speaker, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, spoke on the connection between climate change and economic development. He discussed how record droughts have adversely affected the quality and quantity of crop yields. Sachs also talked about the pressures on natural resources and promoted the need for better public health access including empowering women to make family planning choices.  Sachs stated that gender equality is a vital part of the solution to mitigating poverty and fostering environmental sustainability. He also said that the private sector has a big role to play in producing new energy technology that will be part of achieving “sustainable cities.” The need to link environmental stewardship to economic development was among the major themes discussed during the UNEP meeting. This includes acknowledging that we have a finite quantity of natural resources and should work on practices that help to sustain these resources for the long-term. Water, oil, coal, natural gas, phosphorous and rare earth elements have all been cited as vital resources that the world’s burgeoning population will have significantly reduced within the next 50-200 years.  Global oil and natural gas reserves would be depleted closer to the half century mark, according to information from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In fact, UNEP, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University last month released a book  that looks at how improving management of our dwindling natural resources may prove critical in deterring armed conflicts over these resources. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has a website, which outlines measures to help Americans manage resources more efficiently and reduce the amount of waste we produce. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service works with farmers, landowners and nonprofits on techniques to help to make the most of their land and soil and to indentify natural resource concerns in accordance with improving management of the environment. This includes helping farmers and ranchers manage agriculture in times of extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, droughts or flooding. From a fiscal perspective, continued investment in these...

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When it comes to invasive species, can we learn from our mistakes?

This post contributed by ESA member Aviva Glaser, who works on agricultural policy for the National Wildlife Federation Seven years, my father decided to plant bamboo in his backyard, in an effort to improve the landscaping. A few years later, and sprouts can be seen creeping out from the bamboo grove in every direction. While my father keeps the bamboo stand under control for now, I wouldn’t be surprised if in another 20 years from now, bamboo begins popping up on some of the neighboring properties. The history of invasive species in this country has often started with good intentions. In the 1930s, for instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid farmers to plant kudzu, promoting it as a “miracle vine” to combat erosion. Years later, this plant is more commonly referred to as “the vine that ate the South,” and is estimated to cover an astonishing seven million acres of land in the southeast.  Not only has it devastated wildlife habitat, but its estimated economic impact in the United States is between $100 and $500 million, and that’s not even considering the millions of dollars spent to control kudzu every year. While we cannot go back and change what has already been done, we can learn from the past and make sure that we are not making the same mistakes in the future. We have just that opportunity right now. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the final stages of approving a rule which would allow two known noxious weeds, giant reed (Arundo donax) and napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), to qualify as renewable fuel sources under the Renewable Fuel Standard. If this rule passes, the U.S. government would once again be creating incentives for the planting of invasive species, this time for renewable fuel. Scientists, however, think that we should be learning from our mistakes – and not be incentivizing the next kudzu or purple loosestrife. Just over a month ago, more than 200 scientists from across the country sent a letter to the Obama administration urging them to take a “look before you leap” approach to potentially invasive plants grown for bioenergy and warning that some crops being considered for large-scale energy plantings may actually be highly invasive and potentially harmful to native species. “Many of today’s most problematic invasive plants – from kudzu to purple loosestrife – were intentionally imported and released into the environment for horticultural, agricultural, conservation, and forestry purposes. These invasive species already cost billions of dollars a year in the United States and are one of the primary threats to North America’s native species and ecosystems. It is imperative that...

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ESA Policy News: August 30

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. DROUGHT: DRY CONDITIONS COME WITH NUMEROUS COSTS, HARDSHIP FOR COMMUNITIES According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of the week of Aug. 21, roughly 53 percent of the nation has experienced at least moderate drought conditions. This has been the case roughly since mid-July. Drought conditions stand to have multifaceted effects on ecosystems as well as the U.S economy, particularly agriculture. Private crop insurers could lose more than $5 billion if this year’s drought destroys more crops than the one in 1988, according to Standard & Poor’s. By 2030, climate change could cause $1.1 billion to $4.1 billion in losses for Corn Belt farmers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The agency states it expects to spend $170 million to help livestock ranchers devastated by the drought. Along the Mississippi River, slowing currents from the drought have allowed salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to advance up the river, leading to the issuance of a state of emergency and drinking water advisory for communities around Chalmette, LA. Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. will build a 1,700 foot-long sill at the bottom of the river to block the heavier salt water from seeping farther north. The project, spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will cost $5.8 million. Dry conditions alter wildfire management practices Furthermore, the drought corresponds with an increase in forest fires. In lieu of this increased dryness and record heat, which allows fire to spread more easily and do more damage, the U.S. Forest Service has altered its wildfire containment practices. Consequently, the agency has temporary suspended a long standing “let it burn” policy, where it would save money by allowing small fires to burn out. The fires still require funds for monitoring. Fire suppression accounts for more than half the Forest Service’s budget. This year, the cost projections are surpassing the budgeted amount of $848 million to $1.4 billion. A recent study in the Ecological Society of America’s open access journal Ecosphere noted that 38 percent of the planet will likely see increased fire activity over the next 30 years. For additional information federal drought monitoring efforts, click here. To view the Ecosphere paper, click here. EPA: FEDERAL APPEALS COURT STRIKES DOWN AIR POLLUTION RULE On Aug. 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the Obama administration’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) that forces cuts from plants in 28 states in the eastern half of the country, concluding that it exceeds the Environmental Protection...

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Social immunity of bees

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer A honey bee (Apis mellifera) afflicted with Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that sucks away its vital, blood-like hemolymph, often passing along viruses in the process, and leaving open wounds. The mite spreads by bee-to-bee contact, accelerated by yearly circuits of agricultural bee broods transported to pollinate almonds and blueberries and other crops. Varroa is a suspect in the still mysterious and ongoing bee disappearance known as colony collapse disorder. But mitocides are suspect as well. Credit, Stephen Ausmus, USDA. FOOD maven Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of the American Public Media radio show The Splendid Table, talked honey bees with entomologist Marla Spivek in a long segment for her May 12th show. Spivak takes her host outside the studio and into the apiary to look inside the secrets of the hive. Over a hum of wings, they talk about the daily activities of male drones, female worker bees, nurse bees, larvae, and the queen – laying her thousand eggs a day. Spivak is a 2010 MacArthur Fellow and Distinguished McKnight Professor in Entomology at the University of Minnesota, where she runs her Bee Lab. In 2006, an abrupt bee population crash began and spread around the world. Bee populations have been diminishing since WWII, Spivak says, in concert with the vast agricultural changes of the last century, but why the current crisis set in with such suddenness is a mystery. An alarming, expensive mystery. Bees pollinate a third of our fruits and vegetables. We have developed an ag system that depends for fertility on the specific ministrations of Apis mellifera – an old world bee that migrated to the Americas (and Australia and New Zealand) with Europeans and European agriculture.  Farmers contract with apiarists to bring hives to their orchards and fields seasonally. Some hives have extended tours. All this migratory labor can be hard on bees. Spivak says colony collapse disorder is most likely the result of a potpourri of deadly influences: the stresses of travel, viral infections, parasite infestations, and pesticides. Researchers are looking for a new disease or new pesticide that might be the kicker on the evil brew. In happier news, public consciousness of bees has jumped since the collapse, with a surge in interest in beekeeping and bee-friendly landscaping. Spivak’s lab investigates  bees’ natural defenses, bee pathogens, and landscape effects on bees and other pollinators, and is working on breeding resistance into their bees. Spivak says bees cope with infection in the hive by “sniffing out larvae when they’re sick” and tossing the sick out of the colony. Bee biologists have recently begun thinking of this “social immunity” as...

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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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Fed seeks to inspire community-driven conservation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced that it is seeking public input on a proposal to expand incentives for farmers, ranchers and other private landowners to help conserve wildlife. The proposal is part of the agency’s effort to seek innovative ways to improve implementation of the Endangered Species Act. The FWS request for public comment includes solicitation of ideas on how to make existing conservation collaboration tools more effective, such as Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, and Candidate Conservation Agreements. The agency’s effort is intended to lead towards consensus approaches and towards encouraging conservation practices by landowners that help preserve species that are candidates for federal protection. One potential proposal before FWS includes the establishment of conservation “banks” for at-risk species. The conservation banks would sell credits that allow landowners to offset the impact of their activities on at-risk species as well as buy credits that reward landowners for making habitat improvements. Also under consideration is the development of a new agreement to provide landowners with assurances that conservation actions taken to benefit species prior to listing could be used to offset the adverse effects of activities carried out later, in the event the species is listed. FWS is also working on a similar effort with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service entitled the Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. The collaboration offers financial and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to restore and protect the habitats for seven at-risk species across the nation, including the  greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. Interested producers can enroll in the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program on a continuous basis at their local NRCS field office. Public comments on the Endangered Species Act reform proposal are due May 14, 2012 and can be submitted using the following methods: Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0099]; or U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0099]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Photo Credit:...

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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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