Policy News: April 20, 2020

In This Issue:

Federal Agency Award COVID-19 Resources
Agencies release guidance for grantees and grant opportunities for COVID-19-related research.

The Ecology of COVID-19 Blog Series
First post from the Long-term Ecological Research Network offers considerations for deciding whether and when to go into the field.

Senators ask Secretary of State to take action to shutdown the global illegal wildlife trade amid pandemic.

Executive Branch
USFWS announces agreement for monarch butterfly conservation.

Federal judge vacates EPA policy prohibiting agency grantees from serving on advisory committees.

Scientific Community
NASEM holds series of webinars about postsecondary responses to COVID-19.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Federal Agency Award COVID-19 Resources

Most federal government agencies recognize the effects the pandemic is having in the research community. Science funding agencies are offering increased flexibility to grantees and grant applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as new opportunities for research relevant to the pandemic. Some agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community are listed below.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The CARES Act provides $75 million in additional NSF funding for research related to the COVID-19 virus with an extra $1 million for award management.

The NSF Coronavirus page contains helpful links to information for grant awardees and those who are seeking new grant awards. Its letter to the community sent March 23 says, “NSF understands the effects this challenge will have on NSF-funded research and facilities, and we are committed to providing the greatest available flexibilities to support your health and safety as well as your work. NSF is continually updating guidance and our online resources to keep you informed. Today, we are also issuing new guidance for NSF awardees to implement flexibilities authorized by the Office of Management and Budget.”

NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate has posted the slides from their virtual office hours on the BIO buzz blog.

Dear Colleague letter notes that NSF is accepting proposals through its Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism to conduct nonmedical research that can be used immediately to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19, to inform and educate about the science of virus transmission and prevention and to encourage the development of processes and actions to address this global challenge. These proposals may be for up to $200K and up to one year in duration, inquiries should be emailed to rapid-covid19@nullnsf.gov.

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

NIFA is continuously updating its Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions and its Coronavirus page. The agency announced April 17 that it will add a program area to its main Agricultural and Food Research Initiative request for applications, titled Rapid Response to Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Impacts Across Food and Agricultural Systems. Applications are due June 4.

The FAQ document notes that grantees may donate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or use staff or equipment funded through a NIFA grant to produce PPE. Grantees may rebudget grant funds to repurchase supplies at a later date or use unobligated balances. However, they must not assume that supplemental funding will be available should the charging of such costs or other fees result in a shortage of funds to carry out the project eventually.

NIFA held a webinar for science partners April 16; stakeholders may request the presentation slides by email.

Department of Energy Office of Science

In the CARES Act, the Office of Science received $99.5 million for the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration to support operations of the National Laboratory scientific user facilities for R&D efforts related to the coronavirus.

Memorandum to Applicants and Awardees reviews accommodations for applications, progress reports and revised travel budgets and travel plans.


Information for grantees is provided in several guidance documents, including a Grants and Research during the COVID-19 Epidemic Frequently Asked Questions document.

The Ecology of COVID-19 Blog Series

ESA is launching a blog series titled “Ecology and COVID-19” and we invite submissions for consideration to publish. We envision blogpost topics such as how the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines are affecting the collection for long-term data sets, research funding, and the ethics of going to remote field sites and possibly risking contamination to the local indigenous or isolated communities. On the research side, blogs presenting how disease ecology, population ecology or community ecology can play a role in understanding the origin and transmission of COVID-19 may be interesting topics.

Read these instructions and tips on submitting a blogpost. We hope you will engage in this dialogue and submit a blogpost for the new “Ecology and COVID-19” blog series.

First in the Series: To Go Or Not to Go (in the Field)?

“Like marine fog that blankets one community while leaving a nearby neighborhood in sunshine, COVID-19 crept up on us at an uneven pace.” This new post on Ecotone by Marty Downs, Frank Davis, Jenn Caselle, Julien Brun, and Kristen Weiss explores the considerations that ecologists face when working during a pandemic.


Wildlife Trade: Seven bipartisan members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate International Conservation Caucus urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “take action, in partnership with other federal agencies, to shut down global illegal wildlife trade and prevent and mitigate future outbreaks of zoonotic disease.”

The Congressional International Conservation Caucus held a virtual briefing entitled, “Wildlife Trade, Origins of COVID-19 and Preventing Future Pandemics.” The event featured remarks from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and a panel of speakers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, African Parks and author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” David Quammen.

Executive Branch

White House: The National Science and Technology Council issued a request for information and public input on future earth system predictability research and development activities. The requested information includes practical needs that could be addressed by earth system predictability research and the socio-economic benefits that could result from it and current gaps and barriers that are holding back progress. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy identified earth system predictability research as a research and development budget priority in 2019.

USFWS: A new candidate conservation agreement for the monarch butterfly between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the University of Illinois at Chicago encourages transportation and energy partners to participate in monarch conservation by providing and maintaining habitat rights of way and associated lands. This voluntary agreement will prevent the butterfly from being added to the federal endangered species list. The University of Illinois at Chicago notes that the agreement may benefit up to 26 million acres of land managed by energy companies and departments of transportation across the United States. More than 45 energy and transportation organizations are participating in the agreement.

A memo from USFWS recommends that bat biologists, researchers and others that handle bats suspend fieldwork involving bats, citing concerns that humans could pass the novel coronavirus to bats and that North American bats could serve as reservoirs for the disease. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Bat Specialist Group is also recommending suspending fieldwork involving direct interactions with bats. An early April bulletin from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center notes that USGS, USFWS and others are convening a team of wildlife disease experts to assess the risk of COVID-19 to North American bats. The group plans to release interim guidance for human-wildlife interactions.

USFWS is also revising a 2015 rule that designated the population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico as a nonessential, experimental population. The nonessential, experimental population designation is used for reintroduced species. Populations covered under this designation are not subject to the same protections as other endangered species. A 2018 court ruling required USWS to revise its management plan for Mexican wolves by May 2021. Public comments will be accepted through June 15, 2020.

EPA: Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that the agency will maintain current air quality standards for particulate matter, as known as soot. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee was split on whether to maintain air quality standards. A group of former CASAC Particulate Matter panel members, comprised mainly of academic scientists, recommended that the EPA tighten current air pollution standards. Wheeler disbanded this panel in 2018, but the panel regrouped in 2019 to provide an independent review of the particulate matter standards with support from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Two 2019 EPA staff reports, the Policy Assessment for the Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter and the Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter, analyzed the science and the adequacy of air quality standards. The policy assessment found increased scientific evidence questioning the adequacy of the current standards for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), but it found that current standards for coarse particulate matter (PM 10) are mostly adequate.

The EPA finalized a rule determining that it is not “appropriate or necessary” to regulate mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The previous 2011 mercury pollution rule used “co-benefits” – or the indirect benefits of reducing pollutants other than mercury – to determine that the benefits of regulating mercury emissions were greater than the costs. The EPA will continue to regulate mercury emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants, but regulators would be prevented from considering “co-benefits.”

A final EPA inventory of greenhouse gases found that U.S. emissions grew 3% in 2018, but preliminary data for 2019 shows that emissions fell last year. The EPA produced this report to meet annual U.S. commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


Endangered Species: A federal judge ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to adequately account for the impacts of fishing net entanglement on endangered North Atlantic right whales. The ruling overturns a 2014 NMFS Biological Opinion regarding the right whale and requires NMFS to produce an incidental take statement for the right whales.

HFCs: A federal court restored some Obama-era restrictions on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigerators and air conditioners. HFCs are greenhouse gases. The EPA opted to suspend the entire rule after the court struck down some provisions of the rule in 2017.

Pipelines: A federal judge in Montana struck down a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The court ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to account for the impacts of dredging and filling waterways associated with the pipeline on endangered species. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers further consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before issuing a new permit for the pipeline.

Science Advisers: A federal court in New York vacated a 2017 EPA policy that barred agency grantees from serving on its advisory boards. In February, Judge Denise Cote ruled that the policy violated the Administrative Procedures Act because the EPA did not explain the shift in policy. This month, Cote rejected the EPA’s request to uphold the policy, determining that vacating the policy would be appropriate because it would not cause significant disruptions.

Scientific Community

NSF: A Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences meeting is scheduled for 1-3 PM EDT, April 30. The Federal Register notice provides attendance information and the meeting agenda:

“Due to ongoing social distancing best practices because of COVID-19 the meeting will be held virtually among the Advisory Committee members. Public visitors will be able to listen telephonically. Public attendees should contact Melody Jenkins at MJenkins@nullnsf.gov to register and receive information to join the meeting.

Agenda items will include a directorate business update, status update on the standard metrics for BIO proposal submissions and review, a review of the charge for the Long-Term Ecological Research 40-year review, a review of the BIO’s Office of the Assistant Director’s response to the Division of Environmental Biology’s Committee of Visitor Report, and discussion of the research communities’ adaptation to COVID-19 restrictions.”

CRS: A new report published by the Congressional Research Service details the impacts of COVID-19 on the federal research and development enterprise, including federally funded university research and facilities and scientific societies.

NASEM: The National Academies are hosting a series of webinars about postsecondary responses to COVID-19. The invitation says, “Over the next several weeks, the Board on Higher Education of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will be hosting a series of conversations to bring together academic, industry, government, and civic leaders across the country to understand the varied facets of what has happened so far, what is currently happening, and what is expected to happen in the weeks and months ahead. Each conversation will focus on a specific topic related to how the 4,000+ colleges and universities-and the researchers who work there-are supporting the response efforts.”

  • How can researchers help the national response efforts? April 9 recording available
  • How can we crowdsource scientists to improve public information? April 16 recording available
  • How can we provide policy advice to the nation faster? April 17 recording available
  • What are the models for volunteering? April 22
  • What are the implications of this being a truly global event? April 23
  • What are possible long-term implications of postsecondary response? April 24

Visit this page to register and to gather more information.

What We’re Reading

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.

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

Virtual public meetings and conference calls:

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’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

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