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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ESA Policy News: April 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP BUDGET SETS FURTHER DISCRETIONARY SPENDING CAPS On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer. Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling. The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare. For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING SYSTEMS On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods. In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of...

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The rising of the sun and the running of the deer

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer In November, Norwegians Arnoldus Schytte Blix, Lars Walløe and Lars Folkow brought us the news that running reindeer cool themselves through open-mouthed panting, as Sara Reardon explains at ScienceNOW. Their heavy winter coats are so effective at insulating the animals from arctic temperatures that they have trouble dumping excess heat through their skin. Deep cooling breaths through their noses aren’t enough when reindeer are working hard. At speed on Blix et al’s treadmill, reindeer tongues loll from open mouths to cool their blood through evaporation, just like hard racing reindeer neck-and-neck in a skijor competition in northern Finland, documented in exciting, goofy, copyrighted detail by photographer Henri Bonell. Do Reindeer bite their giant tongues? “Fortunately they only have bottom incisors, although their molars are sharp so I imagine they avoid closing their mouths until their tongues are safely inside,” said veterinarian Christina Ramirez. Deer have a bony plate in place of top teeth in the very front of their mouths. A big gap separates the few pointy teeth at the front of the bottom jaw from molars in the back. As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks In reindeer (known as caribou in the New World) territory, climactic change is palpably present. Melting permafrost is a vivid symptom. Tilting buildings and falling trees, undermined by the thaw, are big reminders of the invisible frozen soil that underlies much of the arctic and molds geology, ecology and human construction. In a long article in the New York Times, Justin Gillis describes an invisible consequence of melting permafrost: methane, a potent greenhouse gas, emanating from rotting plants released from frozen ground. Microorganisms are busy decomposing leaves and branches that have been on ice for thirty thousand years, producing methane as a byproduct of their gluttony. The US Department of Energy is investing $100 million dollars in an attempt to estimate the amount of carbon frozen in the soil and predict the future of the arctic. A slideshow of working scientists, and beautiful images of methane bubbling up from new Alaskan lake beds and collecting under surface ice, accompanies the article. NOAA’s year of extreme weather: 12 disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it’s been a record year for disastrous weather in the US, with a succession of tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, heatwaves and flooding hitting the country. Re-experience it on their website. 12 Days of Christmas-y Citizen Science Projects The folks at Talking Science, a non-profit partner of NPR’s Science Friday, list twelve ways to participate in research, from sifting data from the Milky Way to counting your (prairie) chickens....

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Waves mightier than sun, otter or urchin: storm disturbance shapes California kelp forests

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. As winter storms pick up along the California coast, a harvest of giant kelp comes ashore with the tides, torn from seafloor anchorages by the rough action of waves. Waves are the most powerful force shaping the kelp forest, superseding the influence of temperature, nutrients, and hungry animals, say University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers in the November issue of Ecology. From Alaska to Baja California, kelp undulates in the currents of rocky coastal shallows, feeding and sheltering a host of sea creatures and birds. Americans harvest kelp for food and fish feed, and the kelp forest harbors commercially valuable fish and shellfish. In central and southern California, the giant kelp predominates. Macrocysits pyrifera anchors at depths of 6 to 150 feet, and is the largest alga in the world, reaching underwater heights of nearly 150 feet in a single season. Conversion of sunlight into kelp fuels an ecosystem. “Primary production is the amount of plant material produced per unit area of the Earth’s surface per unit time. It’s really the basis of all life on Earth for the most part,” said Dan Reed, research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UCSB, and principle investigator of the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research project. In the kelp forest, the primary producer is the kelp itself. Reed and his colleagues wanted to know how periodic disturbances from large waves stacked up against other influences on kelp forest growth. Lack of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, slows the kelp’s exuberant expansion, as do the teeth of small, but numerous, sea animals. Kelp is the favorite food of the sea urchin, as commercial harvesters of the fist-sized, spiky animal well know. Urchins do not climb the kelp stalks. They forage across the seafloor, devouring fallen kelp blades (analogous to leaves) and chunks. But their powerful, self-sharpening teeth can also chew through the holdfasts of the kelp, releasing the giants to the mercies of the ocean currents, as graphically exhibited by time-lapse footage in the BBC’s documentary Planet Earth. In concentrated herds, unchecked urchins have been known to raze entire forests. The check on the urchin is the sea otter, a top predator of the kelp forest. The demands of the otters’ high metabolisms drive them to eat up to a fourth of their body weight in invertebrates daily, and they like sea urchins. The otters are a classic example of a keystone species, an animal whose eating habits tip a crucial balance in a cascade of consumer-and-consumed reactions. The arrival of otters in new territory has changed relatively barren, stony seafloor into...

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Mississippi floods out humans and wildlife

In late April, two major storm systems across the Mississippi River watershed brought about one of the most catastrophic floods upon the Delta region in generations. Thousands of homes have had to be evacuated and there have been a number of deaths. President Barack Obama has declared bordering counties in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky as federal disaster areas. The flooding along the Mississippi River has also sparked a great migration among the numerous species of wildlife. In one of the worst cases of overflow since the Great Depression, the Mississippi River has flooded three million acres across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. The Mississippi River has the third-largest drainage basin in the world, absorbing 41 percent of the drainage from the 48 contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The massive river covers more than 1,245,000 square miles. According to the National Weather Service, a number of cities are currently experiencing record flood levels. In Natchez, Mississippi, the water now stands at 58.3 feet, shattering the 1937 watermark of 53.04 feet. In Memphis, the Mississippi crested May 9 at 47.8 feet, just under a foot below the city’s record, set in 1937. A wide range of wildlife is on the move, trying to escape the rising waters.  Animals such as deer have been frequently spotted swimming across stretches of water in search of higher ground. Wild turkeys, which nest this time of year, have lost nesting spots and hatchlings to the floodwaters. Other creatures swept up in the floodwaters include alligators, spiders, rats and even fire ants. Venomous water moccasins have been reportedly appearing everywhere from residential trees to yard porches and sheds. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, it is also mating season for the water moccasins, making the reptiles more aggressive than usual. The Tennessee government has issued a press statement advising residents to avoid the displaced snakes and offering tips on how to treat snake bites. However, some species may benefit from the floods. Biologists have noted that flood waters, which wash increased amounts of worms and insects into the water, provide extra food to fish such as catfish, common carp, bluegill and crappie. However, an aggressive non-native species, the Asian carp, is also expected to flourish. Contamination of the water is also a concern, with the Tennessee and Mississippi State Departments of Health warning residents to steer clear of the water for health reasons.  The greater Mississippi River is expected to contain a number of contaminants, from trash and farm runoff to untreated raw sewage and chemicals. Testing performed by ABC News found E. coli and coliform at 2,000 times the...

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How federal investment in flood management can save money

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Is your neighborhood capable of weathering a flood? Would you still be able to drink tap water after such an event? Are the levees, dams, bridges and storm drains in your town capable of coping with a potential flood? The United States Geological Survey (USGS)–at least for the time being– has the federal resources, investment and capability to answer these questions for our nation’s communities. On April 15, USGS sponsored a briefing entitled “2011 – The Year of the Flood?”  This briefing highlighted the many flood management benefits of the USGS streamgaging program. The speakers—including Brian McCallum, Assistant Director of the USGS Georgia Water Science Center, Tom Graziano, Chief  Hydrologic Services Division of the NOAA National Weather Service, and Brian Hurt, a former City Engineer in Findlay, Ohio—discussed the many benefits of maintaining up-to-date information on surface water data. The USGS operates and maintains a nationwide streamgaging network of about 7,000 gages. The network is supported by funding through the USGS’s Cooperative Water Program, the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, other federal environmental agencies and roughly 800 state and local funding partners. Its users include a multitude of local, state and federal agencies, industry, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and even individual citizens. The economic benefits and cost savings of adequate federal investment in streamgaging technologies is substantial.  A study from the National Hydrologic Warning Council estimated the value of hydrologic forecasts at $1.6 billion annually, and that report attributed $1.02 billion in savings to successful forecasting for reservoir operation. If three to five percent of this total is attributed to the gage network that provides that necessary data for forecasting, the benefit is $30-$50 million annually. The Army Corps of Engineers presents an annual report to Congress, with detailed information on flood damages prevented by Corps projects. The average annual flood damage prevented by Corps projects between 1983-2002 is $23.2 billion. Nearly 20,000 communities across the nation participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which is designed to provide an alternative to disaster assistance to reduce the costs of repairing infrastructural damage caused by floods. During Friday’s briefing, Brian Hurt pointed out that methods that allow earlier flood warnings to residents allows them to preemptively secure valuables and consequently allow savings of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the National Flood Insurance Program. Concurrently, the National Weather Service (NWS) uses USGS streamgaging data in its flood warning program. The data reported from the NWS flood warning program provides critical lead-time ahead of impending natural disasters for emergency response agencies, and consequently citizens, to take pre-emptive measures for minimizing the...

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Climate Change: What Broadcast Meteorologists Believe

When it comes to information about climate change, we want to believe that most people make rational, informed decisions based on a careful analysis of data. The truth for many people, though, is that their main source for climate change information is their local broadcast meteorologist. Unfortunately, this information often comes in the few seconds before or after a weathercast when a news anchor might ask the meteorologist if an unusually warm winter day is a “sure sign of global warming.”

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