ESA Policy News: April 3, 2023

In this issue:

ESA Responds to the National Nature Assessment Request for Information
Comments are the beginning of a multi-year process of engagement between the ecological community, OSTP and potential users of the National Nature Assessment

Call for Nominations for 2023 ESA Regional Policy Award
ESA seeks nominations for its annual Regional Policy Award to recognize a local or regional policymaker who has integrated environmental science and policy in initiatives that foster more sustainable communities.

Senate votes to nullify Clean Water Act rule, Biden is expected to veto the measure.

Executive Branch
JASON concludes that an NSF research program on research security would be useful in addressing concerns about foreign influence and the security of the US research ecosystem.

Environmental groups sue the federal government for failing to protect corals.

The Chronicle of Higher Education launches tracker to document state-level legislation to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs at universities.

UN General Assembly requests an advisory ruling from the International Court of Justice to clarify the legal obligations of countries to address climate change.

Scientific Community
National Academies to hold webinar series titled “Paving the Way for Continental Scale Biology: Connecting Research Across Scales” starting April 24-25.

Federal Register

ESA Responds to the National Nature Assessment Request for Information

After extensive outreach to the ESA community, the National Nature Assessment Working Group submitted comments on behalf of ESA in response to White House Office of Science and Technology Request for Information “Framing the National Nature Assessment.” The comments note that defining nature and its value to the nation is critical as it strikes at the core of national security, prosperity and health.

ESA views these comments as just the beginning of a multi-year process of engagement between the ecological community, OSTP and potential users of the National Nature Assessment (NNA). We also anticipate that there will be opportunities for ecologists to participate in the development of the first NNA, including opportunities to serve as chapter authors. ESA is hosting an NNA Town Hall during the Annual Meeting this summer in Portland, OR.

Last April, the Biden administration announced the launch of the NNA. Led by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, this report will assess the state of the U.S.’s lands, waters and wildlife and the specific benefits that they provide. The assessment will also allow the country to look ahead at how nature might change in the future and identify opportunities for investments in nature to help achieve climate, health, environmental justice and economic goals.

Call for Nominations for 2023 ESA Regional Policy Award

Do you know someone who has made positive efforts toward environmental sustainability in Portland, Oregon?  ESA seeks nominations for its annual Regional Policy Award to recognize a local or regional policymaker who has integrated environmental science and policy in initiatives that foster more sustainable communities.

ESA has honored past award recipients for policy work that included:

  • wildlife conservation
  • green urban renewal initiatives
  • stream, river, lake restoration

ESA’s 2023 Annual Meeting will take place in Portland, Oregon. The annual Regional Policy Award honors policymakers from the region in which the Society holds its conference that year. Nominees should be from the Portland area and likely to accept the award in person at the Society’s Opening Plenary.

Award Criteria

Candidates to receive the Policy Award be a current or recently former elected or appointed official located in the city, state or region where the ESA Annual Meeting is held that particular year and must meet at least 3 out of the 5 criteria below:

  1. Has a proven track record of applying ecological science to their decision-making;
  2. Seeks the best available science when making environmental policy decisions;
  3. Demonstrates a commitment to communicating ecological understanding to the general public;
  4. Demonstrates a commitment to enhancing communication between policymakers and the ecological community; and
  5. Strives to involve the local community in his or her environmental policy initiatives (e.g. implement volunteering programs, outreach efforts, or education programs related to environmental policies).

Whenever possible, the nominations process should address the following:

  • Does the candidate have a science advisor or consult with scientists?
  • Does the nominee refer to scientific resources, such as peer-reviewed studies, etc.?
  • How would awarding this nominee be received at the local/regional level?
  • What are specific activities that this individual has accomplished informed by ecological science?
  • Is the nominee likely to appear in person to accept the award (currently set for 5 PM on Sunday, August 6, 2023)

Send nominations and direct inquiries to Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager,


Senate: The full Senate voted to nullify the Biden’s administration’s latest rule aimed at defining regulated waterways under the Clean Water Act. Four Democratic Senators, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and independent Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) joined Senate Republicans in voting for the measure. President Joe Biden has voted to veto the bill and neither chamber of Congress has the votes to overturn the veto.

The definition in the rule includes ‘navigable waters’, wetlands and other bodies of water adjacent to them if they are connected with ‘relatively permanent’ waters. Waterways are only included if they will ‘virtually always significantly affect’ traditional navigable waters or if waters they have a ‘significant nexus’ to larger downstream waters. The Biden administration said that rule aims to create a ‘durable’ definition of the Waters of the U.S. using the best available science after the rules finalized by the Obama and Trump administrations have been challenged in the courts. The Biden Clean Water Act rule was released in late December and the rule was originally set to take effect in late March.

A federal court ruling in mid-March froze the implementation of this rule in Texas and Idaho. The state of Texas and industry groups sued the federal government, arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should wait until the Supreme Court issues a ruling in the Sackett v. EPA case before implementing the rule. The state of Idaho joined Texas’ complaint.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the Sackett v. EPA by the end of its current term this summer after it heard oral arguments in the case this past fall. The ruling will likely impact the applicability of the Clean Water Act and what waters are included in the definition of the waters of the U.S.

Conservation: Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) reintroduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 1149). This bill provides $1.4 billion in annual mandatory funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies for conservation of at-risk species and the implementation of state wildlife action plans. Lawmakers have introduced different versions of this bill since 2016 but have struggled to agree on a funding source for the bill. Last year, the full House passed this legislation lby a 231-190 margin. The bill has attracted bipartisan support in the Senate, but failed to pass the full Senate during the 117th Congress. ESA and other scientific societies have endorsed previous versions of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Appropriations: Department and agency heads defended their budgets, released as part of the President’s Budget Request, on Capitol Hill this past week. National Park Service Director Charles Sams, Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams appeared before the House Appropriations Committee Interior and Environment Subcommittee March 29. Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) warned the agency heads to “decipher between want and need,” citing the new House Republican leadership’s commitment to “meaningful steps to help put our country’s fiscal house in order.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack received a similar reception on Capitol Hill, with Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) telling Vilsack that his department’s request is “unrealistic and unattainable.”

House Science Committee: The full Committee voted to advance seven bipartisan bills to the full House March 29. The bills include Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)’s Coastal Communities Acidification Act (H.R. 676), which requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to collaborate with state and local governments and Indian Tribes on vulnerability assessments related to ocean acidification. Another bill (H.R. 1713) from House Science Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) authorizes research collaborations between the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture. A statement from the House Science Committee says that these collaborations will advance crop science, maximize carbon storage, enhance precision agriculture technologies and more. A bill (H.R. 1715) from Rep. Max Miller (R-OH) directs NOAA and the Department of Energy to conduct collaborative research to advance numerical weather and climate prediction and a bill (H.R. 1496) from Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA) upgrades National Weather Service technology.

Legislative Updates

  • House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) reintroduced the Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 1705 and S. 919). The bill is similar to legislation introduced by Grijalva and the late Rep. Donald McEachin during the last session of Congress after soliciting extensive feedback from environmental justice groups and communities. McEachin died in November 2022. Among other provisions, the bill authorizes $75 million annually for environmental justice research and requires increased public participation opportunities under the National Environmental Policy Act. Despite efforts from the bill’s sponsors, the full House did not vote on the bill during the previous session of Congress.
  • Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) reintroduced the Agriculture Research Act (H.R. 1840 & S. 1016). This bill sets a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for U.S. agriculture by 2040 and, among other provisions, includes funding for agricultural research. This bill comes as Congress begins the process of drafting the 2023 Farm Bill, setting agricultural policy for the next five years.

More News:

Executive Branch

White House: At a conservation summit, President Joe Biden signed an executive order designating sites in Nevada and Texas as national monuments and starting the process of creating a new national marine sanctuary in the Pacific and unveiled a new Ocean Climate Action Plan and guidance for wildlife corridors. The site in southern Nevada, now known as the Avi Kwa Ami National Monument, covers 500,000 acres of mountains in the desert, including Spirit Mountain, which is considered sacred by the Fort Mojave Tribe. The Texas national monument covers 7,000 acres of the Castner Range in El Paso. The area is important to the Comanche and Apache people and was used for weapons testing and training through the 1960s.

Biden directed Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to initiate creating a national marine sanctuary, protecting all areas around the Pacific Remote islands.

The wildlife corridors guidance from the White House Council on Environmental Quality directs agencies to consider the impacts of federal agency decisions, such as land use planning, on wildlife habitat connectivity and to submit a report to the White House on their progress towards implementing this guidance within 180 days.

The Ocean Climate Action Plan outlines actions needed to create a carbon-neutral future, accelerate nature-based solutions to protect and support natural coastal and ocean systems and enhance community resilience to ocean change.

White House: The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is requesting input to create an updated version of the 2009 “Climate Literacy: Essential Principles of Climate Science” report. USGRP aims to include advances in climate and social science since 2009 and adds a focus on informed climate decisions. Comments should be submitted through the USGCRP website and are due by May 15, 2023.

White HouseNew resources from the Office of Science and Technology Policy include guidance for applying climate science information in federal agency climate adaptation planning and an action plan for expanding and improving federal climate information and tools. Additionally, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released a new annual report highlighting recent interagency research, tools, and engagement activities.

NSF: A new report from JASON responds to NSF’s questions about research security, addressing what a research program on research security might entail, how it would be defined, and which areas of study are ripe for advances that might have the most immediate impact on the way NSF and the federal government considers research security. The report finds that the issue of research security is real, yet found that US researchers often feel threatened, frightened and/or burdened by past and current actions to deal with problems of research security and integrity. The authors recommend that the products of a research program on research security must not be used to disadvantage anyone based on their ethnic background or country of origin. JASON concludes that an NSF research program on research security would be useful in addressing many of the concerns about foreign influence and the security of the US fundamental research ecosystem.

USGS: The Advisory Council on Climate Adaptation Science has re-opened nominations for new members. This committee advises the U.S. Geological Survey and the Interior Department about climate adaptation science and the regional and national Climate Adaptation Science Centers. Nominations are now open through April 15, 2023.

Interior: A new Bureau of Land Management proposed rule would formally add conservation as a use for lands managed by the agency, in addition currently recognized uses such as grazing, oil and gas drilling and recreation. The Biden administration says that this rule will allow the agency to improve the resilience of public lands in the face of a changing climate.  The rule will be open for public comment once it is published in the Federal Register.

More News:



DEI: The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking state-level legislation that would prohibit colleges and universities from maintaining diversity, equity and inclusion programs and trainings or prohibit colleges from using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in admissions or employment. As of March 31, the publication has identified 29 bills in 17 states. None of these bills have passed their respective state legislatures.

More News:


Scientific Community

NSF: The Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education will meet April 5-6. Agenda items include building research capacity at emerging research institutions, a panel about water availability and security and a panel about environmental equity. The meeting will take place virtually and the public can RSVP to attend via Zoom.

NASEM: The Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology will hold a webinar series titled “Paving the Way for Continental Scale Biology: Connecting Research Across Scales” starting April 24-25. This webinar will include identifying and discussing practices that have been used successfully to translate knowledge from small-scale biological research to regional- and continental-scale, challenges that prevent uptake of these practices and specific research questions that could serve as pilots for implementing research projects that integrate one or more successful practices. Speakers will highlight frontier research efforts demonstrating continental-scale biology. This event will provide a platform for creative collaboration among experts from multiple fields, organizations and sectors. RSVP here.

UK: The British Ecological Society published two reports, revealing that ecological sciences are losing out on funding compared to other sciences in the UK and set out a research agenda for ecology over the next 25 years. The Trends in UK Funding for Ecology report analyzes the funding available for ecological research in the UK, identifying disparities with other research sectors and highlighting how funding shortfalls could undermine the ability of ecological research to benefit society. The Future of Ecological Research in the UK report offers a vision for ecological research over the next 25 years, identifying five priority themes to advance our understanding of the natural world. Read the reports here.

More News:

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View more letters and testimony from ESA here.

Federal Register Opportunities

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’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, or Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager,

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