Policy News: October 21, 2019

In This Issue:

House Natural Resources Committee Considers Bills to Boost Funding for Conservation, Create Wildlife Corridors
Bill would provide $1.4 billion in dedicated funding.

House Science Committee advances scientific integrity legislation.

Executive Branch
Draft Environmental Impact Statement exempts the Tongass National Forest from 2001 Roadless Rule.

Federal judge blocks the implementation of 2019 sage grouse conservation plans.

California bans the pesticide chlorpyifos.

Scientific Community
Applications for the 2021 class of Knauss Fellows are now open.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

ESA In the News
View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage.

House Natural Resources Committee Considers Bills to Boost Funding for Conservation, Create Wildlife Corridors

The House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife held a legislative hearing for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742, RAWA) and the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act (H.R. 2795), which is a key step for both of these bills in advancing to the full committee and then the full House.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide an additional $1.4 billion in combined, dedicated funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies to implement state wildlife action plans and conserve at-risk species. The legislation is supported by the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife, which includes the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a host of scientific and conservation groups and businesses. Before the subcommittee hearing, ESA joined Alliance members in sending a letter of support for RAWA to the Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-CA). Huffman supports both bills, but he noted that RAWA could go further in providing funding for threatened and endangered species recovery. Lead RAWA sponsor Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) originally introduced this bill in 2016 and she has since reintroduced similar legislation in 2017 and 2019.

The Wildlife Corridors Act gives authority to federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands to create a comprehensive corridor network. It also establishes a wildlife movement grant program to fund conservation efforts on state, tribal and private lands. Lead sponsor Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) has introduced similar legislation in 2016 and 2018 – this is the first time the bill has received a committee hearing.

National Wildlife Federal CEO Collin O’Mara, Audubon Great Lakes Policy Director Marnie Urso and Director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife Gloria Tom all testified in support of both bills. O’Mara and Urso both cited a recent Science paper that found a nearly 30% decrease in the number of North American birds since 1970 and Huffman mentioned another September 2019 Science article concluding that habitat connectivity enhances biodiversity.

Both bills have bipartisan support – RAWA has 144 co-sponsors, including 108 Democrats and 36 Republicans. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) is a lead sponsor for the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a Senate version of the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act (S. 1499).


Agricultural Research: Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) and Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced the House version of the America Grows Act (H.R. 4714 – Agriculture, Budget).  This bill would provide a 5% annual increase for U.S. Department of Agriculture research programs, including the National Institute for Food and Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Senate version (S. 2458 – Budget) of this bill in September.

Aquaculture: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing to consider offshore aquaculture. Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) has introduced and pushed for legislation to allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to regulate aquaculture in federal waters. Director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis Ben Halpern testified that marine aquaculture has the potential to produce food without less environmental impacts than other modes of food production – particularly if aquaculture sites are strategically sited. Halpern provided a few science-based guidelines for minimizing the environmental impacts of aquaculture. Chairman of the Lummi Nation Jay Julius shared his tribe’s experience when thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon escaped from an aquaculture pen in northwest Washington state. The Lummi Nation declared a state of emergency and incurred significant expenses responding to the fish spill.

Scientific Integrity: The House Science Committee advanced the Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709) that codifies a 2010 memorandum on scientific integrity issued by former Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. The legislation aims to stop agencies from delaying the release of scientific reports for political reasons. If passed, the bill would require agencies to train employees on scientific integrity and to report on their progress in implementing scientific integrity policies. The vast majority of House Democrats – 218 members – are co-sponsors of the bill. Six Science Committee Republicans joined the committee’s Democratic members voting in favor of the bill.

Legislative updates

  • The full Senate rejected a measure (S.J.Res.53) that would have struck down the Trump administration’s replacement to the Clean Power Plan, the Affordable Clean Energy rule.
  • The House Science Committee passed a bill (H.R. 4091) increasing authorized funding levels for the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to $750 million annually by 2024. In Fiscal Year 2019, ARPA-E received $366 billion.
  • Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) introduced a bill (H.R. 4679 – Natural Resources) that requires the Government Accountability Office to examine how fishery managers are responding to climate change and make recommendations to improve fisheries management to adapt to climate change. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee and two Florida Republicans, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), are co-sponsors.

See ESA’s Legislative Tracker for more updates on legislation relevant to the ecological community.

Executive Branch

Cabinet: President Donald Trump confirmed that Energy Secretary Rick Perry will resign his position and leave the Department of Energy (DOE) by the end of 2019. In his over two and half years leading DOE, Perry oversaw a nearly 25% increase in the agency’s budget, including record funding for the Office of Science. Trump also announced that he will nominate Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette to replace Perry.

EPAAdministrator Andrew Wheeler appointed three new members of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and renewed the appointments of seven academic members for a second three-year term. Breaking with a long-term SAB tradition in 2018, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt refused to renew the terms of academic SAB members previously appointed during the Obama administration. In total, the SAB now has 44 members.

USFWSFederal officials removed the Kirtland’s warbler from the federal endangered species list following conservation actions that allowed the species population to rebound from an estimated 201 singing males in 1971 to 2,383 males in 2015. The migratory warbler nests in young jack pine forests in northern Michigan and Wisconsin, spending its winters in the Bahamas. Since the bird was listed in 1967, federal and state agencies and nongovernmental organizations have engaged in extensive forest management activities to maintain areas of young jack pine forest and in efforts to reduce nest parasitism by cowbirds. The final rule goes into effect Nov. 8, 2019.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a Candidate Notice of Review document for this first time since December 2016. This document provides a summary of what species the agency considers candidates for federal endangered species protections. USFWS downgraded the listing priority for the Colorado delta clam and San Francisco bay delta population of longfin smelt and removed the Uvea parakeet from the list of candidate species. For the Colorado delta clam, USFWS cites evidence that the species is more widely distributed than previously thought. The agency determined that increased state-level conservation efforts for the longfin smelt, as well as increased water levels in California, merited a lower priority for protections for that fish species. In total, USFWS names 48 candidate species in the document, an increase in the number of candidate species since the last list in 2016. Any information regarding these species should be sent to the appropriate USFWS regional office or the Branch of Delisting and Foreign Species.

Forest Service: The agency published a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) proposing to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the 2001 Roadless Rule. Nationally, the Roadless Rule prohibits road construction, road reconstruction and logging on 58.5 million acres of the National Forest System. The EIS analyzes several options for modifying protections for the 16.7 million-acre temperate rainforest and designates the option that fully exempts the Tongass from the rule as the agency’s ‘preferred alternative.’ If finalized, this would remove the roadless designation from 9.2 million acres of land and open 165,000 acres of old-growth forest to logging. Alaska’s congressional delegation, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Alaskan governors have long pushed for this change.

The Forest Service will accept public comments on the draft EIS through Dec. 17, 2019. A statement from the House Natural Resources Committee promises ‘targeted oversight’ of the proposal and notes that committee leaders are co-sponsors of Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)’s Roadless Area Conservation Act (H.R. 2491 – Agriculture, Natural Resources), which would make the 2001 Roadless Rule into law.

NSF: A BIO Advisory Committee report recommending a separate entity to facilitate community engagement in the National Ecological Observatory Network is now available online. A subcommittee of five ecologists drafted the report. A May ESA blog post summarized the report, as discussed during the May BIO AC meeting.


Pebble Mine: Attorneys representing around a dozen environmental groups sued the EPA, challenging the agency’s decision to withdraw a 2014 proposed determination that would have effectively blocked the Pebble Mine project from moving forward. A July 2019 order from EPA Regional Administrator Chris Hadlick concluded that the science underlying the 2014 assessment is no longer up-to-date. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently working to finalize an environmental impact statement for the Pebble Mine project, a large open-pit copper and gold mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska – the site of world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery.

Sage Grouse: A federal judge temporarily blocked the implementation of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2019 land management plans for sage grouse in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and part of California after environmental groups challenged the new plans in courts. Among other changes, the Trump administration’s sage grouse plans mostly eliminate the “sage grouse focal areas” designation, opening those areas to oil and gas drilling. With this ruling, the BLM will be forced to adhere to the more restrictive 2015 sage grouse conservation plans.


California: The state government and pesticide manufacturer Corteva Agrisciences reached an agreement to stop the sale and use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is linked to brain damage for children and is also toxic to birds, fish and bees. Under the agreement, Corteva will stop selling the pesticide in Feb. 2020 and agricultural producers will be banned from owning or using chlorpyrifos starting Dec. 31, 2020. Hawaii was the first state to ban chlorpyrifos in 2018.

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law prohibiting state agencies from allowing pipelines or other oil and gas infrastructure to be built on state lands, a move aimed at preventing new oil and gas drilling on federal public lands in the state.

Wyoming: In a bid to prevent the spread of mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park, officials will begin removing the nonnative goats from the park. The goats carry pathogens that threaten the native bighorn sheep herd.

Scientific Community

AwardsNominations for the Golden Goose Awards are open through Dec. 20, 2019. The Golden Goose Award recognizes researchers whose federally funded research may have seemed obscure or sounded “funny” but has led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact.

These studies, which often have had serendipitous beginnings, demonstrate the tremendous human and economic benefits of federally funded basic scientific research. Awardees are honored each fall at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress from both parties speak to the importance of the award and of federal funding of scientific research.

NOAA Sea Grant: Applications for the 2021 class of John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellows are now open through Feb. 21, 2020. The program is open to graduate students interested in marine, coastal and Great Lakes policy. Fellows are placed in offices in the legislative branch or in federal agencies for a year. See the Sea Grant website for more information.

NSF: The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is looking for reviewers to evaluate fellowship applications for the 2020 year. The GRFP provides three years of funding for masters and Ph.D. students in STEM fields. Reviewers include faculty who work with graduate students and researchers working in NSF-supported fields. The time commitment for reviews includes an orientation webinar for reviews in November or December and virtual panel sessions to discuss applications in January. See the GRFP website for more information.

SPECO: A new report, The Responsibility of Ecologists, sums up the view of ecologists participating in a debate entitled “How is Ecology contributing to the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals?” held during the 15th European Ecological Federation Congress in Lisbon from July 29 – Aug. 2, 2019. ESA President Osvaldo Sala participated in the panel moderated by the report’s author José Vítor Malheiros.

ESA: The authors of the latest Issues in Ecology, “Impacts to Wildlife of Wind Energy Siting and Operation in the U.S.,” will hold a webinar Oct. 30. This webinar will provide an overview of key highlights from the report, discussing the benefits of wind energy, what we know about interactions between wind energy and wildlife, priorities for future research, and the value of robust science in wind-wildlife decision making.

Climate Adaption: The Global Commission on Adaptation, which is co-chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, released a report concluding that investing $1.8 trillion globally in adaption in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits.

Biodiversity: A major new biodiversity study, “The geography of biodiversity change in marine and terrestrial assemblages” published in Science, reports findings about the geographic variation in biodiversity change. Researchers found more biodiversity losses in the tropics with changes in marine ecosystems greater than changes to terrestrial ecosystems.

Opportunities to Get Involved

The Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is looking for new Advisory Panel members, including individuals with expertise in ecological restoration, fire ecology, ecological adaption to climate change and fish and wildlife ecology. This panel evaluates and provides recommendations on potential restoration programs to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program funds and promotes collaborative, large scale ecosystem restoration on priority forest landscapes. See the Forest Service website and the Federal Register notice; nominations must be received by Nov. 15, 2019.

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is seeking stakeholder input on how Congress and the U.S. government should respond to the climate crisis and “lead an ambitious transition to clean energy and resilience that puts Americans to work, builds a just economy, unleashes American ingenuity and prepares communities for the impacts of climate change.” Questions from the committee ask about community climate resilience, forests, oceans and climate information needs. To inform the policy recommendations of the committee, provide responses to the questions by Nov. 22, 2019 by emailing ClimateCrisisRFI@nullmail.house.gov

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

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

ESA Members in the News

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 more 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 Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager, Nicole@nullesa.org

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