ESA members met with 2015 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners in May to share insight on various ecological career options at the ESA office in Washington DC. Pictured left to right: Rich Pouyat, Laura Petes, Sydney Blankers, Emlyn Resetarits, Natalie Hambalek, Cleo Chou, and Alan Thornhill. (Photo credit: ESA)

On May 14, ecologists and biologists from across the US fanned out across Capitol Hill, visiting 54 congressional offices to support President Obama’s request of $7.7 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). They highlighted how federal investment in scientific research benefits the communities the lawmakers represent. 

The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) event is organized each year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BESC draws participation from Ph.D. scientists and graduate students affiliated with the two organizations. ESA was represented by the 2015 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners Sydney Blankers (University of Illinois-Chicago), Cleo Chou (Princeton University), Natalie Hambalek (Oregon State University), and Emlyn Resetarits (University of Texas-Austin).

Prior to the Hill visits, BESC participants received protocol training regarding meeting with congressional offices. They came prepared with personal stories describing how federal funding aids their scientific research, helps them in advancing professional development and benefits their states. While firm commitments to support science funding varied from office-to-office, the graduate students mostly received collegial receptions from congressional staff and lawmakers.

The visits came ahead of House lawmakers’ consideration of H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which would significantly alter how NSF prioritizes scientific research. The bill includes language targeting cuts to key areas of science, including the social, behavioral and geosciences at NSF and environmental research at the Department of Energy. The BESC representatives encouraged lawmakers to oppose the bill, which unfortunately was subsequently passed by the House along partisan lines.

The day before the Hill visits, the students met informally with several ESA members working in policy-related positions in federal offices: Alexis Erwin (USAID), Laura Petes (OSTP), Rich Pouyat (USFS), and Alan Thornhill (USGS). Additionally, Kei Koizumi, assistant director, Federal Research and Development for the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy briefed them on the federal budget process.

Additional photos from the event can be viewed ESAs Facebook page.


Karen Lips represented ESA on April 29, 2015 at the 21st Coalition for National Science Funding Annual Exhibition held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: ESA)

ESA joined 37 organizations to participate in the 21st Annual Exhibition and Reception of the Coalition for National Science Funding on Capitol Hill, entitled “Investments in STEM Research and Education: Fueling American Innovation.” ESA Rapid Response Team member Karen Lips (University of Maryland) spoke to attendees about research on the conservation and ecology of amphibians and reptiles. Her poster’s title “Preventing the Next Amphibian Apocalypse” explained the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (B.sal) pathogen and the susceptibility of US amphibian species to its deadly effects. Dr. Lips' research was funded in part by an NSF Award from the Directorate for Biological Sciences' Division of Environmental Biology.

Members of Congress attending the exhibition included Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). National Science Foundation Director France Cordova was also in attendance. NSF used Storify to cover the reception and highlighted Lips’ research.


ESA President-elect Monica G. Turner, President David W. Inouye, and Immediate Past-president Jill S. Baron commend Pope Francis for his encyclical on the environment. A papal encyclical is one of the highest forms of official papal teaching that influences Catholics worldwide. Pope Francis’ popularity and moral clout with non-Catholics and Catholics alike has the potential to influence climate change policy. He is visiting the United States in September 2015, where he will speak to both Congress and the United Nations.

Read more about the encyclical in an Ecotone guest blog post by Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale and senior lecturer and research scholar at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Tucker wrote and produced an Emmy Award winning documentary broadcast on PBS titled Journey of the Universe, which is also a book from Yale and a series of Conversations with scientists and environmentalists.


Participants attending the SBI training held at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, MD honed their business skills to ensure their scientific research projects remain robust in June 2015. (Photo Credit: Thad Parsons)

ESA Science Office held its second “Sustaining Biological Infrastructure (SBI): Strategies for Success” course for twenty-two leaders of biological infrastructure projects (including digital data resources, field stations, labs, and collections). Attendees spent three days learning more about financial management, planning, and communication. 

The course was a resounding success, with participants reporting increased confidence levels in a variety of skills: understanding and communicating financial information, putting together a business plan, communicating with stakeholders, and approaching private funding sources. The ESA SBI training initiative is funded by a three-year grant from NSF, with Cliff Duke and Jill Parsons as PIs, and is assisted by an Advisory Committee.


With the help of Dr. Sam Droege and numerous other partners from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the US Forest Service and the University of Maryland, SEEDS students explored the critical role of pollination and pollinators in our lives. (Photo Credit: ESA)

The 10th SEEDS Leadership Meeting was held May 6-10, 2015 at NorthBay Adventure Camp in North East, Maryland.  Twenty-three students from across the US met around the theme, Pollination Science, Policy and Communication, joined by ESA President, Dr. David W. Inouye.  Participants came from SEEDS chapters and included the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 SEEDS Undergraduate Research Fellows. Students also visited the ESA office in Washingon, DC and picked-up some communications strategies from Liza Lester, ESAs communications officer.  The Meeting included a career panel, hosted by the US Forest Service, where students learned about a wide range of career possibilities. The theme of the Meeting proved timely with the release of the White House Pollinator Health Task Force report on May 19. Read a firsthand account of the Meeting on the Ecotone blog.

ESAs SEEDS program is the proud recipient of a four-year, $597,643 grant from the National Science Foundation with the aim of retaining underrepresented undergraduate students in ecology. With this grant, we will be able to establish regional fieldtrips (which have been piloted in the past year), institute summer research partnerships that will be incorporated into the SEEDS Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, and implement the SEEDS Certificate program which will provide longer-term mentoring for at least a year.  Read the SEEDS NSF award announcement and an interview with SEEDS alumna Betsabe Castro.


Supporting FY 2016 funding

In April, ESA sent House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittees letters requesting support for the National Science Foundation (NSF). ESA penned its own letters to the House and Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittees supporting FY 2016 funding for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

ESA also joined a number of conservation and educational organizations in letters to House and Senate appropriators expressing support for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s education programs.

ESA submitted a letter to Senate appropriators with a number of scientific societies requesting that they not fund NSF by directorate.

America COMPETES Reauthorization Act

As part of the Coalition for National Science Funding, ESA signed a letter to the House expressing opposition to H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act that would cut funding for several fields of science including environmental research, the geosciences and the social and behavioral sciences. ESA also was among the many scientific societies who weighed in individually with a letter.

Travel to scientific conferences

With over 80 scientific, medical and education organizations, ESA endorsed a letter spearheaded by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in a letter to Congress expressing concerns with regulatory and legislative efforts that would hinder federal agency employees’ ability to participate and scientific conferences.

Invasive Species

With the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species, ESA issued public comments to the Department of Energy on potentially invasive high energy crops.

Climate change policy riders

ESA and several scientific societies sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting their FY 2016 appropriations bills exclude language to restrict funding for climate change research.

Innovation Imperative

In June, ESA and 250 industry, science, and higher education organizations issued a call to action urging Congress to enact policies to end sequestration cuts to discretionary spending that hinder research at federal science agencies and make investments that help ensure the United States remains a leader in scientific discovery and innovation.


ESA members’ activities have been highlighted in media outlets over the past few months. Pictured left to right: Ellis, Huenneke, Lips, Baron, Inouye, Padilla.

ERLE ELLIS (University of Maryland - Baltimore County) was quoted in The New Yorker referencing a paper published last month in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution about how apes are adapting to life in human landscapes- and how important it is to conservation for ecological science to get beyond the limits of research “in the wild.” He was also involved in an article in New York magazine on the Anthropocene.

LAURA HUENNEKE (Northern Arizona University) is serving as a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for the revision of the Coconino County, Arizona Comprehensive Plan. The Plan sets guidelines for planning and zoning decisions across the county, which is the second largest county in area within the contiguous US and includes the north and south rim Grand Canyon and other spectacular landscapes. The current Plan, which is built on a conservation planning framework explicitly citing research from the Ecological Society of America, is being updated to include new elements (chapters) on sustainability and economic development.

KAREN LIPS (University of Maryland) participated in two briefings with congressional and federal multi-agency staff who serve on the National Invasive Species Council. Both were sponsored by the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species. She discussed her research on the potential invasive threat posed by Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal).

ESA Immediate Past-president JILL BARON (Colorado State University) was interviewed for the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast on her tenure as president of the Society from 2013-2014. Baron additionally reflects on her efforts to foster collaboration between the ecological and business communities.

ESA President DAVID INOUYE and Immediate Past-president JILL BARON are featured in an interview about ESAs Centennial in the online publication International Innovation.

In the town of Friday Harbor, San Juan Island in Washington, DIANA PADILLA (Stony Brook University) is working with local citizens and conservation groups to stop the installation of a large dock in fragile marine habitat. The dock would border a biological marine reserve and a fishing reserve. It would also impact eelgrass and kelp habitat important for endangered and commercial species, including resident killer whales. On the north shore of Long Island New York she is working with local citizens and managers to establish a small biological and research reserve in a salt marsh adjacent to a Stony Brook marine laboratory.


Ecological Science at the Frontier: Celebrating ESAs Centennial

The clock is ticking to register and attend ESAs Centennial Meeting in lovely Baltimore! It looks to be mega meeting with many special events, sessions, plenary speakers, symposia and more.

Please join us as we officially celebrate ESAs 100th birthday and look towards the next 100 years of ecological science.


EcoTone: ESAs blog is soliciting guest contributions about citizen science as well as posts highlighting ecology and its connections to policy and society. Contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester to learn about contributing a post:

Podcasts: Field Talk features the field experiences of ecologists, including the work of those who have been published in the Society’s journals. For more information, contact Liza Lester: The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast provides a venue to communicate experiences in public policy. For more information, contact ESA Policy Analyst, Terence Houston:

ESA in Action Fall 2015: If you have an interesting story about sharing your work beyond the ecological community or have been actively involved in policy or media communication, we’d like to hear from you. Please send updates to ESAs Public Affairs Office at

Keep track of science and policy developments, news about your fellow ecologists and join the conversation through our Facebook page and Twitter.

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