ESA Policy News March 30: House committees review FY 2017 NSF, NOAA, Forest Service budget requests, ESA submits funding testimony to Capitol Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. 


On March 22, a House Science, Space and Technology Research Subcommittee hearing examined the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) FY 2017 budget. During the committee hearing, both Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) expressed general support for the work of the National Science Foundation.

In her remarks, NSF Director France Córdova noted that since 2010, research funding for the agency in constant dollars has declined, which affects the number of NSF grants awarded.

“The result is that the fraction of proposals that we can fund has decreased significantly. The funding rate was 30 percent in FY 2000 and is just over 20 percent now,” said Córdova. “Of great concern to us is that the situation is more challenging for people who haven’t previously received an NSF award, including young investigators. For them, the funding rate has gone from 21 percent in FY 2000 to 16 percent today.”

Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) voiced skepticism about new mandatory spending outlined in the agency’s budget request, but he remained hopeful that colleagues could support another bipartisan increase for NSF. He expressed support for continuing to give NSF discretion in how it prioritizes directorate funding, citing similar views recently iterated by House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX).

Click here to view the Research and Technology Subcommittee NSF hearing. Click here to view the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.


On March 16, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment convened for a hearing examining the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s FY 2017 budget request.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the budget request of prioritizing climate research over weather forecasting.

“Instead of hyping a climate change agenda, NOAA should focus its efforts on producing sound science and improving methods of data collection.  Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA,” said Smith. “This was demonstrated by the agency’s decision to prematurely publish the 2015 study that attempted to make the two-decade halt in global warming disappear.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) used her opening statement to emphasize the importance of NOAA’s climate change research and how monitoring rising temperatures and changes in ocean chemistry and ecosystems helps us better manage our fisheries, coasts, and improves the resiliency of our nation’s coastal communities. She also took the opportunity to address Chairman Smith’s investigation into NOAA’s climate science research.

“Before I yield back I’d like to address the majority’s ongoing investigation of NOAA’s climate scientists. It is clear to me that this investigation is unfounded and that it is being driven by ideology and other agendas,” Johnson countered. “The majority has asserted, without offering any credible evidence, that NOAA and the climate science community, at-large, are part of some grand conspiracy to falsify data in support of the significant role humans play in climate change. However, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, across many different fields has shown that this is not the case.”

Click here to view the full hearing.


On March 22, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing examining the US Forest Service’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request.

For most of the hearing, Republican committee members criticized US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell for failing to invest in states’ timber sales. The committee hearing also focused on the growing cost of wildfire suppression activities.

According to Tidwell, fire suppression activities, which take up roughly half of the Forest Service’s budget, will grow to 67 percent of the agency’s budget by 2025. Tidwell maintained that the agency’s budget constraints have led to the agency prioritizing funds for fire suppression at the cost of maintaining forests. He called for Congress to enact a new mechanism for funding wildfire suppression that eliminates the need to transfer funding from other agency accounts.

Click here to view the hearing.


In March, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent correspondence in the form of testimony to various appropriations committees in support of science funding.

In testimony submitted to the House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science appropriations subcommittees, ESA requested $8 billion in funding for NSF in FY 2017. The testimony highlights the critical role NSF funding plays in funding ecological research and furthering careers in science in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It also encourages Congress to permit NSF to continue choosing funding levels for individual directorates.

ESA relatedly issued testimony to the House and Senate Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittees requesting restoration of funding for the Joint Fire Science Program. The program is funded by the Department of Interior and the US Forest Service. While the Interior portion of its funding was sustained in the FY 2017 budget request, its Forest Service funding was cut.

ESA joined several organizational in statements sent to the Hill. The USGS Coalition, of which ESA is a member, sent testimony to the Hill in support of the Obama administration’s request of $1.2 billion for the US Geological Survey. ESA joined a Coalition for National Science Funding statement that supports $8 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY 2017. ESA also cosigned a letter from science education and conservation organizations supporting funding for environmental literacy grants at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click here to view the ESA letters.


The US Department of Commerce unveiled a new website for the business community that provides resources and information for incorporating natural capital into their planning and operations.

The agency defines natural capital as “the Earth’s stock of natural resources – air, water, soil, and living resources – that provide a range of goods and services on which the global economy depends.” The website is an interagency effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Economics and Statistics Administration. The website includes analyses of direct and indirect drivers of change and trends in ecosystem services along with how this data can be useful to the business community.

The initiative is in line with a “Final Ecosystems Goods and Services Classification System” report from the Environmental Protection Agency, geared towards businesses and communities to aid in quantifying the value of ecosystem services. Other classification systems include The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services.

Click here for additional information.


In a unanimous ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Alaskan moose hunter, John Sturgeon, who challenged a National Park Service (NPS) ban on the use of hovercrafts in national parks. Sturgeon sued because a lower court ruling blocked him from riding a hovercraft in a national preserve. His position received unanimous support among the Alaskan congressional delegation and business entities.

The 8-0 decision overturns a ruling from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that held NPS has authority to enforce its hovercraft regulations on navigable waters in Alaska that run through state lands. In its ruling, the Court cited the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which requires certain accommodations for fishing and recreational activities specific to Alaskan lands that are not applicable to federal lands in the contiguous United States.

“ANILCA repeatedly recognizes that Alaska is different -from its ‘unrivaled scenic and geological values,’ to the ‘unique’ situation of its ‘rural residents dependent on subsistence uses,’ to ‘the need for development and use of Arctic resources with appropriate recognition and consideration given to the unique nature of the Arctic environment,'” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.