ESA Governing Board taking actions to meet changing conditions influencing professional science societies

ESA Governing Board Fall Meeting
16-17 November 2021
by President Dennis Ojima

The ESA Governing Board (GB) met in November to consider a number of issues that are determining how professional societies will operate in the future. Some of these issues are a reflection on how the pandemic has affected society at large, but other issues are emerging rapidly after years of developments. Several of these issues align with how ESA, as well as other science societies, provide essential services to their membership: through annual meetings; publication of peer-reviewed journal articles; and associated services related to education, enhancing equity and diversity in ecological professional fields, outreach, and science-policy engagement.

For the Fall GB meeting, the three ESA Presidents (President-elect, President, Past-president), the Executive Director and five senior staff came to the Washington, D.C., office in person. Six other Governing Board members, guests and a few other senior staff members participated remotely. The agenda for the two-day meeting was packed with a number of items, including strategic planning discussion, governance transition, and operational considerations related to elections, Editor-in-Chief vacancies, finances, publications and committee updates.


The GB spent some time discussing how ESA might enhance services and support to members who are not affiliated with academic institutions, and to better understand the range of professional career paths available to ecologists. Broadening ESA’s scope to serve the ecological community outside of academia is a focus of my term as ESA President this year. Our conversation also noted how many early-career ecologists are seeking professional career tracks in more applied areas of ecology and seeking skills that would allow them to better meet societal challenges.

Additional conversations explored how open-science initiatives would impact science societies, and how ESA can be more involved in efforts to communicate science to policy makers, the public, and other audiences, with a suggestion that ESA members could create one-pagers on specific topics (with the support of staff) for distribution. In addition, the GB discussed how ESA may contribute and be part of the international efforts to utilize ecological sciences in finding sustainable solutions to global environmental changes. How and why ESA should increase its engagement internationally will be a focus of future discussion. One outcome of these conversations was an agreement to explore how to initiate a foresight effort to provide dynamic planning activities to meet future needs of ESA membership.


The ESA transition plan for the new governance restructuring associated with the recently accepted revisions to ESA bylaws (passed during the August annual meeting by the GB and the ESA Council) were presented and will take effect in January of 2022. The ad hoc governance and leadership working group led by Vice President for Science Diane Pataki was tasked with developing a plan to clarify standing committee charges, chair selection procedures and other procedure aspects relative to bylaw changes. The Council leadership working group developed transition procedures for restructuring the ESA Council and Council leadership team. The plans are being reviewed and refined by the GB and Council.


Election status and EiC replacements: The GB also was informed of and approved election results for the GB slots and two new Board of Professional Certification members. In addition, the recommendations of the Publications Committee for new Editors in Chief (for Ecological Monographs and the Bulletin) were presented and the GB approved the recommendations. Both have accepted. The formal announcement of both the Editors in Chief and the election results will occur December 15. 

Finances: The board reviewed several items related to ESA finances as is its fiduciary responsibility. Our Annual Meeting, investments, membership dues and journals all provide the revenue that keeps ESA solvent and able to provide member services. The technology for holding a fully virtual Annual Meeting in 2021 increased costs, while attendance was slightly lower than the previous year. We hope to meet in person in Montreal for the 2022 Annual Meeting. The board approved funds to include approximately $35K for a 2022 Opportunity Fund to be used by members to offset expenses (travel, registration, and dependent care grants) to the meeting. ESA will invest a larger portion of our reserves into environmentally responsible funds. Our financial auditors advised ESA that Section and Chapter dues funds must be spent in the calendar year without any carryover of money into the next year. ESA Chief Financial Officer Liz Biggs will work with Sections and Chapters to make the transition as easy as possible.

Journals: Our journals are the financial and intellectual backbone of the Society and considerable time was spent reviewing the publication program. ESA currently publishes with Wiley and our contract with them is open for negotiation in 2022. An RFP was distributed to other potential publishing partners on December 1 with proposals due in late January 2022. ESA is using KWF to coordinate the entire process. President Ojima appointed a small group of members that will work with staff to review the proposals. A recommendation for how to proceed will be made to the GB by April 2022. If ESA accepts the proposal of a new publisher, the transition will take place between May-December 2022.

Issues in Ecology: The board approved a proposal to change Issues in Ecology from a stand-alone report to a synthesis article that will be published in the ESA Bulletin and be linked to a collection of peer-reviewed articles. 

DEIJ: The GB was updated about recent advances with its newly formed Diversity Committee, which is chaired by Carmen Cid. The Diversity Committee has recently announced its first cohort of the ESA Excellence in Ecology Scholarships. It was noted that other organizations recognize ESA’s efforts in DEIJ as being well formulated and meaningful to meeting the needs of ESA and its members. It was also noted that the SEEDS efforts are indicative of the long-standing awareness of DEI issues in ESA and that the program serves as a model to other professional science societies.

In conclusion, ESA is doing well despite numerous challenges faced over the past two years. However, we should recognize that the landscape shaping professional science societies is changing in concert with technological advances affecting publications, meetings, and the way we communicate science; the demographics of our membership and of individuals who endeavor to use their ecological expertise for the betterment of civil society; and the calls from policy makers seeking “nature-based” solutions that are underpinned by ecological foundations. ESA needs to explore how it can meet these changing conditions while continuing to support its members and contribute to societal needs for ecological expertise. The GB is committed to continuing its efforts to serve ESA to its best ability.