October 11, 2016

In This Issue

Webinar: Eyes in the Sky- Drone Use for Ecological Research

Many researchers use drones in terrestrial and marine environments, giving scientists unprecedented access to areas previously difficult to reach. In August, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced new measures to accelerate the safe integration and innovative adoption of unmanned aircraft systems across the United States. These announcements most notably expand on the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “Small UAS” rule, announced in late June, providing national guidelines for operation of non-recreational unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds.

Join ESA for a webinar presentation and hear first-hand from an FAA expert about how to implement the new rules for unmanned operating systems, commonly referred to as drones.

Webinar: Eyes in the Sky: Drone Use for Ecological Research.
: Oct 27, 2016, 2:00 PM EDT
Presenter: Joe Morra, manager, Flight Operations Section, Federal Aviation Administration

Register to attend the webinar, Eyes in the Sky: Drone Use for Ecological Research. Space is limited, so please register early to guarantee a spot.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

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Climate Change: Spring is Starting Earlier in National Parks

Climate change is impacting over 75 percent of national parks across the country finds in a new study first published in Ecosphere, a journal of the Ecological Society of America. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the release of the study, “Climate change is advancing spring onset across the U.S. national park system” (Monahan et al. 2016), on October 6 in Shenandoah National Park, one of the parks included in the study.

The study analyzes the time span from 1901 to 2012, a period that provides the best historical temperature data and that generally overlaps with the history of the National Park System. It is based on the work of a team of researchers led by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service, along with the University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and Cornell University. The team analyzed patterns of historical temperatures for 276 of the 413 national park units, including sites from Alaska to Florida.

The researchers used climate change indicators called the Spring Indices-models based on nationwide field observations of first leaf-out and first-bloom dates in two common and widely distributed flowering plants-lilac and honeysuckle. Based on the indices, the scientists dated the onset of spring in each park, year by year, and then analyzed those trends. Three out of four parks examined were identified as having an earlier onset of spring; more importantly, two out of four parks were identified as experiencing extreme early onsets of spring.

“The bottom line is not just that parks are susceptible to climate change. In fact, they have already changed,” said Jake Weltzin, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a co-author on the study. “Many park managers are already managing in an extreme environment.”

At Shenandoah, the early blooming of lilacs and honeysuckle is indicative of a much larger problem. The park has 360 non-native plant species, of which 41 are considered invasive and highly destructive. These non-native plant species, such as garlic mustard and oriental bittersweet, are taking advantage of a warming climate and earlier spring, invading forests across the park and displacing native wildflowers.

Studies suggest that early spring is also disrupting critically important natural relationships, like the link between the peak bloom of wildflowers and the arrival of birds, bees, and butterflies that feed on and pollinate the flowers.

“These results clearly show that climate changes have already affected park resources. There are now new challenges to managing parks that are experiencing continuously changing relationships between species,” said John Gross, an ecologist with the National Park Service.

The affects of early onset springs impact cultural events such as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which has evolved from a single day to a multi-week event in order to reliably coincide with the blossoming. World Heritage sites, in U.S. National Parks and worldwide, are adversely affected also. For example, Yellowstone National Park has higher temperatures now than 50 years ago and 30 fewer days of snow on the ground. These changes are altering snowmelt, water levels, vegetation and wildlife movement-from migrating bison to spawning trout and the arrival of pollinators. Mesa Verde, another World Heritage site, is increasingly threatened by hotter, dryer conditions, resulting in increased threat of wildfire such as were experienced in 2000 and 2012.

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Federal Budget: Continuing Resolution Passed

A last minute deal, averting a government shutdown, was agreed upon by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi late on September 27, clearing the way for last minute passage of a continuing resolution.

The final obstacle was overcome with an amendment to the Water Resources and Development Act (H.R.5303) that was amended (H.Amdt.1478) to include funding for Flint Michigan’s lead water crisis and other communities whose infrastructure is plagued by “chemical, physical, or biological” contaminants.

That action cleared the way for passage of an amended Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R.5325) that included funding to fight Zika and incorporated provisions for the continuing resolution.

The continuing resolution funds the federal government until December 9. Congress returns to work in November, following the elections. Uncertainty about the outcome of the elections and the continued resistance of many House conservatives to a long-term budget deal presage continued battles and last minute dealing.

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Climate Change: U.S. Court of Appeals Holds Marathon Clean Power Plan Hearing

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit grilled 16 attorneys for nearly seven hours on a suit to block the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Filed by 27 states and dozens of other entities, the suit challenges the plan on the basis of over-reach, “double regulation” of pollutants, “commandeering” of state government resources to craft compliance plans, notice rulemaking, and achievability.

Arguments against the plan focus most prominently on whether it is within the scope of authority that Congress delegated to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act. A Supreme Court ruling in 2014, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, held that EPA could not enact major “transformative” policies without a “clear statement” from Congress.

Arguing on behalf of the 27 states against the rule, West Virginia Solicitor General Elbert Lin contended that the Clean Power Plan raises the “major question” standard established in the 2014 Supreme Court ruling. Commenting afterward, Lin said, “I think the question they’re going to have to grapple with is: How transformative is transformative?”

Kevin Poloncarz of Paul Hastings LLP, representing a group of power companies supporting the plan contended that the rule is not transformative, “How transformative can that be if the emissions standards don’t go into effect until 2022 and we’re already two-thirds of the way there?” he asked.

A more unusual argument came during a long of discussion whether EPA can regulate carbon emissions because it already restricts mercury emissions from power plants under a different section of the Clean Air Act. Opponents of the plan assert that amendments to the Act prevent EPA from double regulating coal plants. Most observers agreed that this argument was not valid.

The commandeering, notice, and achievability arguments seemed to gain the least traction. Justices appeared to dismiss them quickly out of hand or to suggest that they were premature before the plan is implemented and its affects known.

The Supreme Court issued a stay of the Clean Power Plan in February, baring enforcement of the rule until outstanding lawsuits are resolved. Most observers expect the D.C. Court of Appeals to rule in early 2017. The D.C. Court met with ten justices hearing the arguments, six appointed by Democratic administrations and four by Republican. A 6-4 decision is anticipated by many, but a 5-5 split is a possibility. Plaintiffs are expected to appeal if losing this round. The Supreme Court is currently one seat short, with only eight sitting justices. A 4-4 split ruling in the higher court is a possibility. A split in either court would normally direct the decision to that found by a lower court. However, the D.C. Court of Appeals is the first to hear the suit. This could result in a long and complicated series of appeals, with the plan possibly remaining stayed through mid-2018.

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Federal Budget: Endangered Species & Defense, Energy and Interior Authorization Bills

A series of anti-wildlife amendments to Interior Appropriations, Energy and Defense appropriations bills prompted nearly half of House Democrats to call on President Obama to promise a veto of the three high-profile measures. A letter led by the House Committee on Natural Resources ranking member Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and 89 additional members, urges a veto of any Republican attempts to strip Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from any authorizing or spending bills.

The three bills in question span across the government: H.R.5538, Interior Appropriations; H.R.8, the Energy Security and Infrastructure Act; and, H.R.4909, the Defense Authorization Act. Each of these bills have passed the House and so will be included in negotiations with the Senate in any resulting conference.

According to the letter, the House Interior bill contains amendments that would “undermine the ESA and limit the ability of the Fish and Wildlife Service to properly protect important species and habitats based on the best available science, including the greater sage grouse, lesser prairie chicken, delta smelt, and certain gray wolf populations,” and other listed species.

The letter goes on to blast the provisions in the House Defense Appropriations bill that “. . . would block cooperative efforts to conserve the greater sage-grouse, despite the Department of Defense asserting that these efforts will not ‘affect military training, operations, or readiness to any significant degree.'”

This is the second consecutive year where Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has used the Defense Appropriations bill as a vehicle to attack protections for the sage-grouse. Though not currently listed, the sage-grouse is the subject of a collaborative plan, already in place, by federal agencies, states, ranchers, industry and environmental groups to restore sage-grouse within its historic range. Importantly, that agreement means that the sage-grouse does not qualify for listing, according to Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell.

Bishop contends, “This amendment, which balances conservation with national security, is basically about two things-military readiness and empowering the states.” Further, he says, “There is ample evidence that federal management of sage grouse populations is already hurting our military’s ability to adequately train on and use critical areas in the West. This would only get worse with a federal endangered species designation and it would hamper the way our fighting men and women prepare to defend our country.”

Contradicting Bishop’s claims, Mark Wright, spokesman for Office of the Secretary of Defense, in an interview with E&E Publishing noted, “While some of the management actions we have instituted have necessitated changes in when and how we use certain areas of our installations-especially during breeding season-none have resulted in unacceptable limits on our military readiness activities,” He continued, “Because we have already undertaken these actions voluntarily, and expect to need to manage for the sage-grouse indefinitely, we do not believe the listing decision-regardless of the outcome-will affect our mission activities to any great degree.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Daniel Feehan, and representatives of the Army, Air Force and Navy also disputed Bishop’s claims.

The “Big Four” Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-RI), Congressmen Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and Adam Smith (D-WA), accept Defense assertions that the Bishop amendment is unnecessary and should be stripped from the bill. McCain’s reasoning is practical because President Obama has already threatened a veto, “The veto would be sustained-and I don’t know what the point is because it has nothing to do with defense,” McCain said in an interview with Defense News, adding, “The commanding officers of bases can train and go where they want.”

Republican leadership is prepared to play chicken with the sage-grouse provisions. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) thinks it needs to remain in the bill. Armed Services Chairman Thornberry, however, said that his hands were tied. “It’s a very significant issue to some people, but essentially, these decisions get made above my pay grade, as far as whether a bill can come back to the House without a sage grouse provision in it.”

The amendment is seen as more important to industry and anti-regulation groups than the supposed defense interests. Senator McCain and Congressman Smith both characterized it as the biggest obstacle remaining. Smith noted, “The Obama administration said they’re not going to list the darn thing anyway, but promises have been at a very high level in the Republican caucus, and I don’t know how we get around that because that would be veto bait.” In a meeting with reporters, McCain said, “Sage grouse! It’s the major impediment. It’s terribly frustrating.”

Action resumes in November after the elections during the lame duck session.

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Climate Change: Paris Agreement Ratified, Comes into Effect November 4

Members of the European Union, Bolivia, Canada and Nepal, on October 5, formally ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. That boosted to 73 the number of countries ratifying the agreement, accounting for 56.87 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement required 55 countries and 55 percent of emissions to take effect. It will come into force 30 days after meeting those requirements, November 4.

Expectations had been rising that the agreement would be enacted before the November 7 U.N. Climate Conference in Marrakech, Morocco. That conference will now host the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.

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Climate Change: Climate Adaptation Leadership Award Nominations Now Open

The Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources recognizes outstanding leadership by organizations and/or individuals to advance the resilience of living natural resources in a changing climate by helping address the goals of the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.

Last year saw seven award recipients and seven honorable mentions. This year, similar numbers are expected. The final number will depend on the number of nominations received. Each awardee will receive a personalized plaque and be invited to participate in a special session to highlight their work at the National Adaptation Forum, May 9-11, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources is designed to recognize efforts that demonstrate outstanding leadership for advancing the resilience of the nation’s living natural resources. Projects must address one or more of the goals identified in the Strategy.

The Climate Adaptation Leadership Award is sponsored by the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Climate Adaptation Strategy’s Joint Implementation Working Group. The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy is a unified nationwide effort-reflecting shared principles and science-based practices-for addressing the threats of a changing climate on fish, wildlife, plants, and the natural systems upon which they depend.

Early registration for the National Adaptation Forum is open, and the call for proposals is available.

Award nominations are due by 8:00 pm EST, Friday, November 18.
Forum program proposals are due October 14. Registration closes at midnight, April 12, 2017.

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Funding Opportunity: Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Funding Available

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative has announced its Request for Proposals for 2018-2019 to fund research activities for the period from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019. This RFP will be released in October 2016. It will build on previous RFPs and will be the final research competition sponsored by the Gulf Initiative. It will only fund two-year awards.

The 2018-2019 RFP will emphasize the Initiative’s five research themes and proposals may address multiple themes:

  • Continuation of previously designated research themes and topics that have emerged
  • Data integration from various sources
  • Scientific synthesis across themes and consortia or other overarching scientific and technological products exploiting the Initiative’s scientific legacy

The total funds available through the 2018-2019 RFP will be approximately $35 million per year. Maximum annual funding for consortia will be $3 million per year and for Individual Investigators $500,000 per year. The Gulf Initiative Research Board expects to fund 15-20 Individual Investigator and 8-10 consortia awards.

The proposed timeline for the awards :

  • October 2016 -RFP-VI Release
  • March 2017 – Proposals due
  • September 2017 – Award announcement
  • January 1, 2018 – Award start date
  • December 31, 2019 – Award end date (no later than)
  • June 30, 2020 – No Cost Extension deadline (no later than)

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative was established in 2010 with a commitment of $500 million over ten years by BP, following the Deep Water Horizon petroleum-drilling rig disaster. The Research Board has twenty members, ten identified by the Initiative and two each nominated by the governors of the five Gulf States. The goal of the research initiative is to improve understanding of, response to and mitigation of impacts to marine and coastal ecosystems of oil spills, such as the Deep Water disaster.

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Federal Register and Other Opportunities

Solicitations for Members

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA Soliciting Members for Science Advisory Board

NOAA is soliciting nominations for members of the NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB is the only Federal Advisory Committee with the responsibility to advise the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator on long- and short-range strategies for research, education, and application of science to resource management and environmental assessment and prediction. The SAB consists of approximately fifteen members reflecting the full breadth of NOAA’s areas of responsibility and assists NOAA in maintaining a complete and accurate understanding of scientific issues critical to the agency’s missions. Members will be appointed for three-year terms, renewable once, and serve at the discretion of the Under Secretary.
Nominations must be received by October 17, 2016 and
should be sent to vog.aaonnull@srebmemwen.bas.aaon.

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National Marine Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Nominations to the Marine Mammal Scientific Review Groups
The Secretary of Commerce established three independent regional scientific review groups (SRGs) to provide advice on a range of marine mammal science and management issues in the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific regions. The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting nominations for new members to fill vacancies and gaps in expertise. Nominees should possess demonstrable expertise in areas specified in the notice.

Nominations must be received by October 31, 2016, and can be emailed to vog.aaonnull@egdirtteB.nonnahS, or mailed to: Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226, Attn: SRGs.
For further information, contact Shannon Bettridge, phone 301-427-8402, email vog.aaonnull@egdirtteB.nonnahS.

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U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Forest Resource Coordinating Committee

The United States Department of Agriculture is seeking nominations for the Forest Resource Coordinating Committee. The committee advises the Secretary of Agriculture on private forest conservation, with specific focus of owners of non-industrial private forest land.

Written nominations must be received by November 14, 2016. Nominations must contain a completed application packet that includes the nominee’s name, resume, cover letter, and completed Form AD-755 (Advisory Committee or Research and Promotion Background Information).

Nominations sent via express mail delivery or overnight courier service must be sent to: Scott Stewart, USDA Forest Service, Office of Cooperative Forestry, Sidney R. Yates Federal Building, 201 14th Street SW., Mailstop 1123, Washington, DC 20024.

Nominations sent via the U.S. Postal Service must be sent to: USDA Forest Service, Office of Cooperative Forestry, State & Private Forestry, Mailstop 1123, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20250-1123.

For further information, contact Lori McKean, phone 570-296-9672, or Scott Stewart, phone at 202-205-1190.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture

Meeting of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board

The United States Department of Agriculture announces a meeting of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board. The main focus of this meeting will be on the review of the relevance and adequacy of the climate and energy needs programs of the USDA Research, Education, and Extension mission area.

The meeting will occur from October 19 to 21, 2016 at The Lory Student Center at Colorado State University, 1101 Center Avenue Mall, The Grey Rock Room, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Written comments may be filed before or up to November 4, 2016.

For further information, contact National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board; telephone: (202) 720-3684; fax: (202)720-6199; or email: vog.adsu.sranull@eeeran.

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U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science

Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee Meeting

The purpose of the meeting is to provide advice on a continuing basis to the Director, Office of Science of the Department of Energy, on the development and implementation of the Biological and Environmental Research Program.

The meeting will occur on Thursday, October 27, 9 am to 6 pm, and Friday, October 28, 9 am to 12:30 pm, at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852.

For further information, contact Dr. Sharlene Weatherwax, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research; phone: (301) 903-3251; fax (301) 903-5051 or email: vog.eod.ecneicsnull@xawrehtaew.enelrahs.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force Meeting
The Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force’s purpose is to develop and implement a program for U.S. waters to prevent introduction and dispersal of aquatic invasive species; to monitor, control, and study such species; and to disseminate related information.

The Task Force will meet from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 10, 2016 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041.

For further information, contact Susan Pasko, ANS Task Force, telephone 703-358-2466, email vog.swfnull@oksaP_nasuS.

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Request for Comment

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy, Request for Comment

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the draft Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy and requests comments, information, and recommendations on the draft new policy from all interested parties.
Comments should be submitted by October 17 via the online comment portal for docket number FWS-HQ-ES-2015-0165.

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