November 25, 2015

In This Issue

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HOUSE: ESA JOINS OTHER SOCIETIES IN DEFENDING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

ESA and six other leading science societies sent a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) concerning his ongoing inquiries into the climate-change research of Thomas Karl and colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At issue is the nearly unprecedented nature of the congressional inquiry into the study.

Karl and NOAA colleagues used updated and corrected global surface temperature data to dispute the existence of a recent pause in global warming. In his 4 June Science article, Karl’s team suggested no discernable decrease in the rate of warming between the second half of the 20th  century, a period marked by human-caused warming, and the first fifteen years of the 21st century, which some have described as a warming hiatus.

Since its publication, Chairman Smith and NOAA have been embroiled in a very public dispute related to a subpoena he sent to NOAA demanding the release of internal communications between NOAA scientists about the climate study. Smith is among those House members who are skeptical of the scientific evidence on climate change. The chairman believes it is possible that NOAA scientists manipulated data to advance the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan.

In the Nov. 24 letter to Chairman Smith, the science societies expressed concern that politically-motivated inquiries could hinder the ability of government researchers to fulfill their agencies’ scientific missions and constrain federal agencies’ capacity to attract quality scientific talent.

“Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” stated the letter. “Science cannot thrive when policymakers—regardless of party affiliation— use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.”

AAAS CEO Rush Holt, executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said that AAAS and other scientific organizations have a responsibility to speak out against excessively intrusive inquiries that go beyond the need for due diligence by policymakers: “This kind of political interference in the scientific process ultimately retards the ability of science to provide understanding and to improve people’s lives,” Holt said. “To arrive at the greatest benefit for people’s lives, the scientific process must be free from politicization.”

Smith contends that the committee is exercising the House Science Committee’s authority to conduct oversight, which he deems permissible even in instances where no evidence of misconduct or fraud exists. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), however, has sent multiple letters to the chairman, asserting his repeated inquiries amount to a “fishing expedition,” and that his effort “seems more designed to harass climate scientists.”

“In one fell swoop, you have accused a host of different individuals of wrongdoing. You have accused NOAA’s top research scientists of scientific misconduct. By extension, you have also accused the peer-reviewers at one of our nation’s most prestigious academic journals, Science, of participating in this misconduct (or at least being too incompetent to notice what was going on), said Johnson in her most recent letter to Smith. “If that weren’t enough, you are intimidating a grand conspiracy theory between NOAA and the White House to doctor climate science to advance administration policy. Presumably this accusation extends to Administrator Sullivan herself.”

Chairman Smith consequently responded to the ranking member with a letter criticizing her for siding with the Obama administration and placing her “political allegiance to the Administration ahead of the Committee’s institutional interests.”

Smith also contends that whistleblower NOAA employees provided him with information indicating that the climate study was rushed to publication. On Nov. 20, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan responded to Smith with a letter noting that the study was published in Science after six months of “rigorous evaluation and peer review.” She indicated that the agency’s Scientific Integrity Office has not received any allegations of this nature.

“I have not or will not allow anyone to manipulate the science or coerce the scientists who work for me,” wrote Sullivan.

Click here to view the scientific societies letter. 

Click here to view Administrator Sullivan’s letter. Click here to view Ranking Member Johnson’s letter. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s response to the Johnson letter.

APPROPRIATIONS: ESA REQUESTS ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH FUNDING INCREASE FOR FY 2016

On Nov. 20, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators requesting a 5.2 percent discretionary spending increase for federal agencies that fund scientific research.

The letter notes the role the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the US Geological Survey and other agencies play in supporting ecological research. It also calls upon appropriations leaders not to include riders that would hinder the ability of federal agencies to make policy decisions informed by scientific research.

“The Society hopes that Congress can reach a bipartisan appropriations agreement that is free of provisions that would circumvent environmental assessments, impede climate change research or make determinations for endangered species listings that bypass the collaborative process involving researchers, state and local resource managers, and input from the general public,” the letter states. “It is important to maintain federal agencies’ capacity to provide the best available science to inform policy decisions.”

Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass a bill that continues federal funding for the remainder of current Fiscal Year 2016. 

Click here to view the ESA letter.

FOREST SERVICE: UPDATED SOFTWARE PROVIDES ECOLOGICAL DATA TO GENERAL PUBLIC

The US Forest Service has launched an updated version of its free software, i-Tree, which provides the general public with scientific information on tree growth and how they are enhancing communities across the United States.

The enhanced features of “i-Tree, Version 6.0” provide users with landscape data on the many ecological benefits trees provide to their area, including carbon storage, air pollution removal, and hydrologic effects. The new software also upgrades web-based mobile data collection and reporting features and simulates future tree population growth totals among other canopy and diversity measurements.

Click here for additional information.

FWS: DELMARVA FOX SQUIRREL LEAPS OFF ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST

On Nov. 13, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that due to collaborative conservation efforts between federal state and local officials, it will remove the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel from the endangered species list.

The squirrel was among the first species to gain federal protection under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, a precursor to the Endangered Species Act. Agricultural development, timber harvesting, forest clearing and overhunting contributed to the loss of 90 percent of the squirrels range in the mid-20th century.

Today, a majority of the squirrel population occupy private land. Since its listing, the squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties with up to 20,000 squirrels living on the Delmarva Peninsula, along the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay. Most of the population is in Maryland although the peninsula also crosses into Virginia and Delaware.

“Today’s announcement is a major victory for the Endangered Species Act and the Delmarva fox squirrel itself, and much credit is due to the federal biologists who have worked for decades to rebuild the squirrel’s populations,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a press statement released by FWS. “But we could not have reached this point without the many citizen-conservationists who changed the way they managed their forest lands to make this victory possible, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts. I will continue to champion the work that the Fish and Wildlife Service does to protect endangered species in the future.”

Click here for additional information:

http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/EndSppWeb/DFS/index.html

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: APPLY FOR 2016 ESA GRADUATE STUDENT POLICY AWARD

The Ecological Society of America invites you to apply for the 2016 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). Recipients receive first-hand engagement at the interface of science and public policy. The two-day event will occur April 27 and 28, 2016.

Participants receive:

  • Travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to speak-up for federal investment in the sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation.  Domestic travel, hotel, and meal expenses will be paid by ESA.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • An opportunity to hear first-hand from ecologists currently working in federal agencies about their policy careers.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • The opportunity to be interviewed for ESA’s podcast,  The Ecologist Goes to Washington and EcoTone blog

Applicants must be an ESA member and a United States citizen residing in the country. Former GSPA winners are not eligible.  Applications are due January 10, 2016. Click here for additional information on how to apply:

https://www.esa.org/esa/public-affairs/esa-policy/policy-getting-involved/esa-graduate-student-policy-award/

NOAA: FISHERIES MANAGEMENT POLICY OPEN FOR PUBLIC COMMENT

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is accepting public comments for a new ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) policy.

Through the establishment of a framework of guiding principles, the new EBFM policy will help clarify existing management policy within NOAA Fisheries and help clarify how these practices relate to existing living marine resources management policy. According to the agency, implementation of this new policy will help NOAA Fisheries and partnering entities “optimize societal benefits across its multiple federal mandates by considering environmental and ecological factors and identifying trade-offs among its trust resources, including fisheries, protected species, and their habitats.”

Comments on the draft EBFM should be sent to Jason Link, Senior Science Advisor for Ecosystems at vog.aaonnull@kniL.nosaJ or Heather Sagar, Senior Policy Advisor at vog.aaonnull@ragas.rehtaeh by Dec. 16, 2015.

Click here for additional information, including a link to the draft policy:

http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/ecosystems/ebfm/creating-an-ebfm-management-policy

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Proposed rule: Public comments due Dec. 9, 2015

Reopening of comment period for proposed rule on scrapie disease regulations

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-29179

Bureau of Land Management

Request of nominations: nominations due Dec. 28, 2015

Call for Nominations for Central California Resource Advisory Council

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-30005

Request for nominations: nominations due Dec. 28, 2015

Second Call for Nominations for the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-30019

Department of Interior

Request for nominations: nominations due Nov. 30, 2015

Nominations open for the Invasive Species Advisory Committee

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-24818

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comments due Feb 16, 2016

Proposed Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan for Western Butte County, California: Environmental Impact Statement

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-29447

US Forest Service

Notice: Public comments due Nov. 27, 2015

Tongass National Forest Wrangell Ranger District; Alaska; Wrangell Island Project Environmental Impact Statement; transition from old-growth harvest to young-growth management

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-27204

CURRENT POLICY

 

Introduced in House

H.R. 4000, the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard Deadline Harmonization Act of 2015 – Introduced Nov. 16 by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would delay implementation of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new ground-level ozone standard by a maximum of eight years. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

H.R. 4019, the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act – Introduced Nov. 16 by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the bill would prohibit the breeding, wild capture and import of orcas (commonly known as killer whales) for public display. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Agriculture Committee.

H.R. 4084, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act – Introduced Nov. 19 by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy Chairman Randy Weber (R-TX), full committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the bill would direct the Department of Energy to prioritize research and development infrastructure that enables the private sector to invest in advanced reactor technologies that reduce waste and improve thermal efficiency. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Approved by House Committee

On Nov. 18, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bill:

H.R. 1321, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 – Introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the bill would institute a federal prohibition on the sale and distribution of cosmetics that contain synthetic plastic microbeads, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. The bill seeks to prevent the plastic beads found in soaps, body washes and other hygiene products from polluting the nation’s waterways. The committee approved the bill by voice vote.

Approved by Senate Committee

On Nov. 19, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the following bill:

S. 556, Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 – Introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would improve access to hunting, fishing and target shooting on federal lands. The bill also includes language to permanently extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) with modest funding reforms. The LCWF language was based on an agreement Murkowksi had reached with Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) earlier this year. The committee approved the bill by voice vote.


Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, The White House, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, Roll Call, Science, the Washington Post, American Academy for the Advancement of Science