Policy News: February 12, 2018

ESA Policy News

In This Issue:

Congress Reaches Budget Deal and Budget Caps Raised

Agreement suspends debt ceiling, raises budget caps, funds government until March 23

ESA Members Visit the Hill for Climate Science Day

Annual event brings scientists to DC to talk climate science

Quick Reads

Trump unveils infrastructure plan, EPA updates, WOTUS delay, Farm Bill priorities, LOBO science review, nominee updates, and more

Get Involved

Comment on IPCC climate change report, comment on offshore drilling expansion, nominate members for Invasive Species Advisory Council, comment on CPP repeal and replacement, and other opportunities to provide comments and input

Legislative Updates

Legislation of interest introduced

Opportunities from the Federal Register

Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement

ESA In the News

View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

Congress Reaches Budget Deal and Budget Caps Raised

* President Trump released his FY 2019 budget on Feb. 12. The president’s budget includes an addendum that accounts for the budget agreement and modifies the budget request to account for new cap levels. Check ESA’s blog and federal appropriations tracker for updates on the president’s FY 2019 budget request and funding levels for agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community. *


The United States government had been operating under a continuing resolution since its reopening on the morning of Jan. 22 following the shutdown that began Jan. 19. This most recent spending measure expired on Feb. 8, and the government shut down briefly for a second time on the morning of Feb. 9, from 12:00 – 5:30 AM, while a two-year bipartisan budget agreement was delayed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), over worries about the bill’s spending increases. The agreement was ultimately passed 71-28 in the Senate and 240-186 in the House, and signed by the President early Feb. 9. The federal government will now be funded through March 23, along with a year of military funding. This deal allows Congress time to pass the necessary 12 annual appropriations bills fund federal agencies.

The two-year budget agreement will suspend the debt ceiling for one year, enabling lawmakers to raise federal discretionary spending by about $300 billion over the next two years. The budget caps for both defense and nondefense discretionary spending have been raised by over $500 billion, allowing their respective budgets to exceed the limits set by the 2013 sequestration that implemented automatic spending cuts. The majority of the funding will go towards defense, but $141 billion, will go towards domestic programs. ESA joined other members of NDD United in a letter asking Congress to end sequestration and raise the budget caps and a second letter on budget caps and 302(b) allocations.

Another $81 billion will be allocated to disaster recovery, with special focus given to mitigation of natural disasters, setting aside $12 billion for the purpose of mitigation. Missing from the plans to mitigate natural disasters, however, were provisions on wildfire suppression funding and management practices. Lawmakers have been attempting to resolve the Forest Service’s necessary annual transfer of non-fire funds to cover the rising costs of wildfires, but Senate leaders did not include a wildfire provision in the final agreement. Despite this lack of a fire funding fix, resilience after certain disasters was emphasized, with $28 billion going to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to repair homes, support local businesses and rebuild infrastructure. Caps will also be raised for disaster relief spending.

The budget deal recommends spending $20 billion on infrastructure, including rural water and wastewater, clean and safe drinking water, as well as rural broadband, energy and surface transportation projects. In addition, a tax will be put on oil in order to fund needed oil spill cleanup projects.

View a draft of the budget agreement’s text here. See a list of the 2018 appropriations so far here.

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ESA Members Visit the Hill for Climate Science Day

On Jan. 30-31, the Climate Science Working Group (CSWG) held its 8th annual Climate Science Day (CSD), an annual event that brings scientists to Washington, DC to meet with their members of Congress to discuss climate science. As a member of the CSWG, ESA worked with other scientific societies to plan and execute the two-day event, which serves as a non-partisan opportunity for scientists to educate and build relationships with congressional staff.

ESA members Matthew Hurteau of the University of New Mexico and Adam Rosenblatt of the University of North Florida joined nearly twenty other scientists whose work relates to various aspects of climate science to participate in CSD this year. A half-day workshop on Jan. 30 prepared participants for the next day of congressional visits and featured keynote speaker Laura Helmuth, editor at The Washington Post and president of the National Association of Science Writers, as well as a panel of congressional staffers.

On Jan. 31, Hurteau, Rosenblatt, and the other scientists divided into teams based on geographic region and conducted nearly seventy visits with congressional office staff and committee staff. The primary request, known as an “ask,” in these meetings was for the member of Congress to publicly acknowledge (if they do not already) that climate change is occurring, poses serious risks, and is predominantly caused by humans. In order to fulfill this ask, there were several possible choices. The two primary options that Climate Science Day participants encouraged were for House members to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and cosponsor a Republican resolution, introduced by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), that calls for economically viable solutions that address the risks of climate change. In the Senate, the asks were to start such a similar bipartisan forum and to introduce a companion resolution.

The scientists also asked lawmakers to support funding for climate research across federal agencies. Scientists were encouraged to develop ongoing relationships with congressional staff and serve as a resource to them.

The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus is devoted to exploring policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. The Caucus, which adds new members in bipartisan pairs, has reached a membership of 70 with the recent additions of Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Amata Radewagen (R-American Samoa), and Judy Chu (D-CA). Republican Rep. Dave Trott (MI) also recently joined the caucus, replacing Pat Tiberi (OH), who left Congress last month.

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Quick Reads

Trump Unveils Infrastructure Plan
Today, President Trump rolled out his proposal for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The plan proposes $200 billion in federal spending over the next 10 years, with the additional $1.3 trillion coming from investments from cities, states, investors, and others. The proposal focuses on public-private partnerships, streamlining permitting processes, investing in rural infrastructure, and advancing workforce training. In order to streamline permitting, the plan proposes a two-year time limit on environmental permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental and water protection laws. This plan outlines a framework for lawmakers to use to craft legislation and will require bipartisan cooperation to implement. According to a national public opinion survey conducted by Research!America, a strong majority of Americans say that it is somewhat or very important for Trump to assign a high priority to putting science, technology, and engineering to work in an infrastructure plan.

EPA Updates:

Nominees: Deputy Pick Advances
On Feb. 7, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved President Trump’s pick for EPA deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler. The 11-10 vote along party lines advances Wheeler’s nomination to the Senate floor for a second time, after Trump had to re-nominate him in the new year. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has recently changed how he talks about the EPA’s endangerment finding, which concludes that greenhouse gases are pollutants. While he criticized the finding in the past, he reportedly assured Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) in a meeting prior to the committee vote that the finding has been legally settled.

Pruitt Appears on the Hill
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 30. Pruitt was criticized for several anti-environment actions, such as delaying environmental rules, removing science advisers and taking down climate science webpages. Pruitt was unable to answer many of the questions posed, including whether or not the EPA’s conclusion that human-caused climate change is harmful to public health, would remain. Pruitt criticized Congress for not empowering the EPA adequately, and was in return reprimanded for not making enough appearances on Capitol Hill in front of committees for the purpose of coordination and information gathering.

EPA Advisory Board Lawsuits
The Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard (University of Washington professor, researcher, and EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee member), represented by the nonprofit Protect Democracy, filed a lawsuit against the EPA on Jan. 23 in response to the policy introduced by Administrator Pruitt in October to ban all scientists receiving agency grants from serving on EPA advisory committees. A similar suit was brought against the policy in December by a coalition of doctors, scientists, and professional groups, and on Jan. 24 the Natural Resources Defense Council introduced the mandate’s third legal challenge. These lawsuits were filed on the grounds that Pruitt’s action was a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and an illegal attempt to override federal ethics rules, undermine the integrity of EPA science, and introduce a “pro-polluter” bias. Furthermore, Sheppard, who had to give up a $3 million grant for research on the health effects of air pollution in order to maintain her committee position, criticized the decision as she uses her scientific expertise to promote public health. Pruitt, on the other hand, has justified the policy by claiming that it resolves any issues of conflict of interest. Agency spokespeople have declined to comment, stating that the EPA withholds comments on pending litigation.

Scientists Correct Pruitt’s Claims on Climate
Last week, EPA Administrator Pruitt moved from questioning the role of humans in climate change to claiming a warmer climate could be positive for people and calling it “arrogant” for people to say they know the ideal surface temperature for humanity in 2100. Scientists classified Pruitt’s claims as false and a misinterpretation of climate research. They pointed to the climate impacts and damage that are already occurring, explained that the current rate of change is faster than what would occur naturally, and warned of projections predicting additional temperature increases, climate impacts, and impacts on human society.

Clean Power Plan Repeal Continues, Lawmakers Warn of Impacts
The EPA is continuing with the repeal and replacement of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama-era regulation that sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, that Pruitt formally initiated last year and that the administration plans to finalize by October. In response to the agency’s request for public comments on repeal and on a replacement rule, four Senate Democrats submitted official comments requesting that Pruitt recuse himself from all aspects of repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan. The four lawmakers—Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Jeff Merkley (OR), Brian Schatz (HI), and Edward Markey (MA)–argued that Pruitt cannot be objective because as Oklahoma attorney general he launched several legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan. Furthermore, repealing the plan has been one of his major goals as EPA administrator.

Separately, a group of Democratic members of the House of Representatives and members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) is urging Pruitt to consider the potential health impacts of replacing the Clean Power Plan. A study conducted by researchers from Harvard, Boston University, and Syracuse University found that the type of rule the agency is reportedly considering—an “inside the fence line” approach—could cause more deaths per year than no rule at all because of fewer carbon reductions and greater harm from other pollutants. The lawmakers warn of these negative health impacts and ask Pruitt to consider them.


WOTUS Delay Finalized
On Jan. 31, the Trump administration finalized a delay of the Clean Water Rule, otherwise known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). This Obama-era rule attempted to clarify water resource management and define the scope of federal agencies’ authority to regulate small waterways for pollution prevention. The EPA’s delay adds an applicability date in order to stop WOTUS from taking effect after the Supreme Court in January overturned a federal appeals court’s stay of the rule. The delay, which took effect on Feb. 6, gives the EPA time to replace the rule with a different version. Environmental groups and states led by Democrats have filed lawsuits challenging the administration’s delay of the rule.

USDA Releases 2018 Farm Bill Priorities
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s Farm Bill and Legislative Principles for 2018 during a town hall on Jan. 24. Perdue stated that the priorities are heavily influenced by the farmers he talked to throughout 30 states regarding what is and is not working in American agriculture.  The legislative principles cover the topics of farm production and conservation, trade and foreign agriculture affairs, food, nutrition, and consumer services, marketing and regulatory programs, food safety and inspection services, research, education, and economics, rural development, natural resources and environment, and management.

2017 LOBO Science Review Report Available
The Report for the 2017 Long-term Operations Biological Opinions (LOBO) Biennial Science Review is now available. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use the Review to evaluate and, if necessary, modify current water operations and regulations. The Independent Review Panel’s (IRP) findings are used by the above agencies to make these decisions and evaluations.

NSF Targets Sexual Misconduct
On Feb. 8, NSF announced new steps to help eliminate sexual harassment in science and engineering. In a notice, NSF stated that it does not tolerate harassment anywhere NSF-funded research or education is conducted and that the 2,000 institutions receiving NSF funds are responsible for fully investigating complaints and complying with federal non-discrimination laws. The new steps to bolster the commitment to a safe research environment include requiring grantee organizations to report any sexual harassment findings, to establish and maintain clear and unambiguous standards of behavior to ensure harassment-free workplaces wherever science is conducted, and to ensure that NSF-funded programs and projects are free of discrimination.

DOI Reorganization Planned for This Year
The reorganization of the Interior Department will be in place in 2018, and the agency’s massive reorganization will begin in Alaska, according to a FAQ document obtained by E&E News. While this document outlines some details of the reorganization plan, it leaves many questions unanswered, including the cost of the reorganization and the role that Congress will play. Interior Secretary Zinke’s plan for the reorganization, reported in January, envisions reshaping the department by dividing the U.S. into 13 multistate regions roughly along boundaries of watersheds and basins. Management of the millions of acres of federal land under the jurisdiction of Interior would be divided among separate administrative regions, each with its own director. Additional details of the reorganization are expected in the near future.

Senate Democrats Question Zinke on BLM Sage Grouse Policies
Six Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke requesting that he explain the full impact of plans to prioritize oil and gas drilling in the habitat of endangered sage grouse species. The letter is in response to Bureau of Land Management policies issued in December that reverse Obama-era guidance for oil and gas development outside of sage grouse habitat. The letter points out that the land which is home to the sensitive sage grouse populations lacks significant potential for oil and gas extraction. It also cautions that such a new direction could “undermine the overarching conservation purpose” of the sage grouse plans finalized in 2015.

Change in Science Subcommittee Leadership
Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) is stepping in as the new chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight following the appointment of previous chairman Rep. Darin LaWood (R-IL) to the House Ways and Means Committee according to a committee press release.  Full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) expressed confidence in Rep. Abraham’s leadership skills and cited his background as a doctor, veterinarian, and business owner.

Senate Hearing on Natural Hazards
On Jan. 30, The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on earthquakes, avalanches, and other natural hazards. Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed concern that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) may remove some of the seismic monitoring devices it has installed in areas at risk of eruptions and earthquakes. USGS Associate Director of Natural Hazards David Applegate stated that his agency is continuing talks with NOAA and NSF, but was unable to comment on the continued quality of seismic monitoring in the face of cuts to funding.

New Tracker of Environmental Regulation Comment Periods
Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law Program has released a new tracker for environmental protection rollbacks under the Trump Administration. The possible effects, status, and history of the proposed rollback are laid out. There are also links provided for opportunities to comment on the proposed rollbacks.

Administration Nominee Updates:

Hartnett White withdrawn for CEQ pick
The White House has withdrawn the nomination of Hartnett White to lead the Council on Environmental Quality. Hartnett White was criticized for her public denials of climate change, including referring to it as “paganism” for “secular elites” and renewable energy as “parasitic.” Her nomination was primarily withdrawn after speculations that “it did not have enough momentum” after Senate Republicans began to question Hartnett White’s qualifications.

Interior, DOE Nominees Advance
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved four picks for top Energy and Interior Department positions on Jan. 30. The committee advanced Melissa Burnison for assistant secretary of Energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, Anne White to head DOE’s environmental management office, Ryan Nelson to be Interior solicitor, and Susan Combs to be Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget. The nominees will next be considered by the full Senate.

Former Astronaut Picked for USGS Head
President Trump has nominated James Reilly, a former astronaut, to lead the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Reilly has experience working as the chief geologist at an oil exploration firm, Enserch Exploration Inc., which specializes in locating and drilling for oil and natural gas deposits. With a PhD in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas, Reilly would be the second person with a PhD in science nominated by Trump to lead a major science agency.

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Get Involved

Call for Expert Reviewers: IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C
The U.S. Department of State, U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) seeks expert comment on the second-order draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on “Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C Above Pre-Industrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways, in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty” (aka the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C). Comments may be made to the USGCRP (due Feb. 8) or directly to the IPCC (due Feb. 25).

Comment on Proposed Expansion of Offshore Drilling
On Jan. 4, Interior announced a plan to open nearly all of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing. The five-year plan, a response to President Trump’s April executive order promoting an “America-First” offshore energy strategy, proposes to auction drilling rights in vast new areas in the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and off the coast of Alaska, opening more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to leasing. Currently, 94 percent of the OCS is off limits. Interior is accepting public input on the proposal, holding public meetings around the country to receive comments and to inform a draft Environmental Impact Statement. Specific dates, times, and venues will be posted on BOEM’s website. The plan and a notice of intent are available for public comment until March 9.

Nominations for Invasive Species Advisory Council
On behalf of the interdepartmental National Invasive Species Council (NISC), the Department of the Interior is requesting nominations for new members to appoint to the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC). ISAC advises NISC, which provides the federal government with coordination, planning, and leadership on the prevention, eradication, and control of invasive species. ISAC is a multi-stakeholder advisory committee that is intended to play a role in recommending plans and actions to achieve the goals of the National Invasive Species Council Management Plan. Nominations must be postmarked no later than Feb. 26.

Comment on Clean Power Plan Repeal and Replacement
On Dec. 18, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an advance notice of proposed rulemaking initiating the first step toward replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP). The document asks for public comment on what a replacement rule should look like. The Clean Power Plan sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cutting them 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In a separate but related action, the EPA had previously proposed to repeal the rule. The agency held one public hearing in November on CPP repeal and announced three additional public listening sessions in San Francisco, CA, Kansas City, MO, and Gillette, WY. The EPA is accepting public comments on CPP repeal until April 26 and comments on a replacement rule through Feb. 26.

National Academies Advisory Committee for the Climate Communications Initiative
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have appointed a new Advisory Committee for the Climate Communications Initiative (CCI), an effort to coordinate efforts across the institution and more effectively enable its work on climate science, impacts, and response options to inform the public and policymakers. The Advisory Committee will help develop a strategic plan and provide guidance in implementing it. It will hold its first meeting March 6-7 in Washington, DC. Public sessions will be webcast.

Recommend Members for NSF Directorate and Office Advisory Committees
The National Science Foundation is requesting recommendations for membership on its scientific and technical federal advisory committees, including the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences. These external advisory committees provide advice on program management, discuss current issues, and review and provide advice on the impact of policies, programs, and activities of the directorate or office of NSF.

For more opportunities to get involved, go to the Federal Register section.

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Legislative Updates

Legislation Introduced

  • Forest Incentives Program Act of 2018 (S.2350). Introduced Jan. 29 by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), this bill would require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a forest incentives program to keep forests intact and sequester carbon on private forest land of the United States.
  • Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2018 (S.2352 and H.R.4889). Introduced Jan. 29 by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in the Senate and Rep. Don Beyer, Jr. (D-VA) in the House, this bill would cap the emissions of greenhouse gases through a requirement to purchase carbon permits and distribute the proceeds of such purchases to eligible individuals.
  • Collaborative Water and Soil Enhancement Act of 2018 (H.R.4892). Introduced Jan. 29 by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), this bill would amend the Food Security Act of 1985 with respect to nutrient and soil health management and source water protection.
  • Empowering State Forestry to Improve Forest Health Act of 2017 (H.R.4976). Introduced Feb. 7 by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), this bill would establish a grant program to support landscape-scale restoration and management. The companion bill is S.962.
  • H.R.4994. Introduced Feb. 8 by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), this bill would repeal section 115 of the Clean Air Act.

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Opportunities from the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

  • NMFS – Draft 2017 Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report
    The National Marine Fisheries Service reviewed the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific regional marine mammal stock assessment reports (SARs) and revised them according to new information. NMFS is soliciting public comments on the draft 2017 SARs, available here. Submit comments online or by mail by March 19.
  • FWS – Initiation of 5-Year Status Reviews for 18 Endangered and Threatened Species
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating 5-year status reviews for 18 species in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Canada under the Endangered Species Act. To inform this review, the agency is requesting submission of new scientific and commercial data that has become available on these species. Submit information via mail or email (addresses in Federal Register notice) by March 23.
  • FWS – Amendments to Appendices I and II of CITES
    The U.S. has proposed to amend Appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at the upcoming meeting of the Conference of the Parties. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking recommendations for animal and plant species to be considered as candidates for removal, addition or transfer to another appendix. Recommendations must be submitted by March 26 via online portal or mail.
  • NOAA – Amendment 4 to HMS FMP Submitted
    The Pacific Fishery Management Council has submitted Amendment 4 to the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS FMP) Amendment 4 ensures descriptions of the management of highly migratory species fisheries and of the Council’s role in providing the status of fish stocks are up to date. It also changes the Council’s meeting and report schedule. Comments on Amendment 4 must be submitted by March 26 via online portal or mail.
  • NMFS – The Pacific Fishery Management Council Announces 2018 Management Process
    The Pacific Fishery Management Council has announced its annual preseason management process for the 2018 ocean salmon fisheries. Comment on the Council’s current salmon management alternatives via online portal or mail by March 30.
  • OMNS – Advisory Council Openings
    The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Advisory Council are soliciting applications to fill seats on their councils. Available positions are advertised on several websites, deadlines vary. More information here.
  • EPA – Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016
    The Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016 is available for public review. EPA is requesting recommendations for improving the quality of the inventory report to be finalized in April 2018. Submit comments by March 9, via mail and email, or online. Comments received after will be considered for the next edition.

Visit this page on ESA’s blog for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment.

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ESA In the News

ESA regularly issues press releases to the media about journal articles and other Society news. Press coverage is kept up-to-date on our “In the News” page. Check out news stories here.

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View letters and testimony from ESA here.

ESA’s policy activities work to infuse ecological knowledge into national policy decisions through activities such as policy statements, Capitol Hill briefings, Congressional Visits Days, and coalition involvement. Policy News Updates are bi-monthly summaries of major environmental and science policy news. They are produced by the Public Affairs Office of the Ecological Society of America.

Send questions or comments to Alison Mize, director of public affairs, Alison@nullesa.org, or Julia Marsh, public affairs officer, Julia@nullesa.org.

Visit the ESA website  to learn more about our activities and membership.