Federal Government Shutdown Stories

** ESA is collecting updates and publishing them on this blogpost about how the federal government shutdown is affecting the ecological and biological sciences. We request that you send us short posts and we will also request a photo if one is available.  ESA can publish your contribution anonymously or give you attribution. Please consider whether using your personal or work email account is appropriate when contacting ESA at alison@nullesa.org. **

Long-Term Ecological Research Sites:
(Added January 3, 2019)

At the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, an NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site managed by the Forest Service and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation with collaborators from institutions across the country, researchers are unable to enter a Forest Service building located within the site that serves as the base for the project’s ecological monitoring activities. Snowmobiles that researchers use to traverse the 7400 acre site are also locked away because they are stored in Forest Service facilities. Because of this, researchers are unable to visit data logging instruments for environmental sensors that measure temperature, moisture, streamflow, and other properties. Federal researchers – who make up around 10 percent of the group – were not able to attend Hubbard Brook’s annual winter meeting for collaborators and cancelled talks, leaving blank spots in the meeting’s agenda.

At the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon, another LTER staffed by Forest Service and Oregon State University personnel, the shutdown struck during a slow time for field data collection. However, lack of access to buildings and equipment and the loss of federal employees is disrupting work. Oregon State University researchers associated with the LTER are also unable to enter offices and laboratories in the Corvallis Forestry Sciences Laboratory because the Forest Service owns the building. Dr. Mark Schulze, the director of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, warned that their situation could become more dire with time, “The longer the shutdown continues the greater the risk that we will lose sample points in our long-term records, particularly with the hydrology and climate programs.”

National Ecological Observation Network
(Added Janaury 7, 2019)

ESA contacted Batelle regarding how the government shutdown is impacting the National Ecological Observation Network‘s (NEON) operations and received this reply: “NEON is funded through cooperative agreements between the National Science Foundation and Battelle for completion of construction and initial operations. Battelle has adequate funding for the NEON program to continue operations through Jan. 20, 2019. NEON Construction is funded through February 2019, which coincides with the established end date for this award. The shutdown is delaying approval of some design decisions for the final field site in Hawaii that may delay completion. If the lapse in federal appropriations continues into mid-January, Battelle will need to revisit the funding status with the project team and provide an update, since NEON Operations could become a concern.”

International Knowledge Exchange Constrained
By Phil Burton, Co-Editor, Canadian Journal of Forest Research
(Added January 11, 2019)

Many U.S. government scientists are key players in the smooth functioning of international scientific journals and conferences. For example, U.S. Forest Service researchers serve on the editorial boards of journals such as Forest Ecology and Management, and the Canadian Journal of Forest Research; they also serve as valued peer reviewers of submitted manuscripts, and publish much of their own work in such journals. As government scientists are not considered essential workers, most are now furloughed. Forbidden from accessing their government email addresses, hundreds of scientific papers submitted from around the world are left in limbo until the normal processing of peer review and editorial screening can resume.

Likewise, several Forest Service leaders play prominent roles in the organization and content of international meetings and conferences. The 2019 IUFRO (International Union of Forestry Research Organizations) Congress — an event that happens only every 5 years — had its cutoff for abstract submission on January 10th.  How many Forest Service researchers have now missed the opportunity to showcase their government-funded research and advance the knowledge and sustainable management of the world’s forests?

Similar situations and constraints on the international flow and sharing of knowledge are undoubtedly afflicting other branches of the Department of Agriculture and other research-intensive agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey.

Shutdown Disrupts Teaching, Research in National Parks
By Norma Fowler, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas
(Added January 23, 2019)

In my Conservation Biology course, each student writes an independent literature review using both scientific articles and government documents, with each student taking a different species. The untended government web sites are going down, one by one, making government documents unavailable – and therefore these projects are probably impossible unless the shutdown ends soon.

We are scheduled to start a new research project in Big Bend National Park this spring. Fortunately, my university has lent us funds since the funding agency is shutdown, so my grad student research assistant on the project is not unemployed, but the Big Bend Park biologists are unavailable for consultation and planning, and what if the Park remains shut?

Header photo by Erika Zambello/LTER.