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National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
September 10, 2002

Representative Alan Mollohan
Ranking Member, House VA-HUD-IA Subcommittee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Mollohan:

As President of the 8,000 member Ecological Society of America, the nation's professional society of ecological scientists, I ask for your support for the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON). NEON is a National Science Foundation (NSF) project for which the President has included $12 million in his fiscal year budget request.

Ecological systems provide the United States with basic needs that sustain human life, such as food, fiber, clean water, and clean air. They also provide us with recreation and aesthetic pleasure. Yet, we currently lack both a way to uniformly collect national data and the required scientific infrastructure to allow us to clearly understand how humankind and environmental change influence ecological processes over large land areas and over long time periods (i.e., over centuries). Developing this understanding is of critical importance, because sustaining ecological processes lies at the heart of sustaining our society. This knowledge also will enable the scientific community to develop early warning systems for critical ecosystem threats, including non-native invasive species (e.g. West Nile virus, leafy spurge, gypsy moth).

The NEON program will address this problem by creating a nationwide ecological monitoring network. This network will provide the scientific community with the capability -- for the first time - to formally collate long-term ecological records and data in a comprehensive and uniform manner. This enhanced scientific capability will enable the creation of new measurement programs and the design of cutting-edge experiments that will allow us to better forecast ecological change and to provide accurate scientific information to decision makers.

We therefore request your support for the NEON program. Attached, please find a fact sheet with additional information concerning NEON. Should you have questions regarding this matter, please contact ESA's Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn at (202)833-8773, ext. 205.

Thank you in advance for your support of this important national program.


Dr. Ann M. Bartuska, President

National Ecological Observation Network (NEON)

What is NEON?
NEON, or the National Ecological Observation Network, will provide a truly regional and national resource - a continent-wide research network of geographically distributed observatories, linked through state-of-the-art communications. NEON is designed to produce the scientific infrastructure necessary to build the knowledge base required to forecast the status and trends of regional and national ecological systems.

Unique Opportunity
The network will enable collection and analysis of data used to determine interaction of organisms and complex ecological dynamics that form the foundation for ecosystem health and human responses to it. NEON represents a unique opportunity for biological monitoring at the broadest level and allows for sensing and assessing fundamental changes in ecosystem structure and function. With new understandings of biodiversity, global change, invasive species and bioterrorism, scientists will be able to better inform policy makers, natural resource managers, and the general public in addressing these issues.

The creation of NEON will help to a fill a major void that currently exists in our national scientific infrastructure. While over the years we have created many coordinated, national systems to forecast important events such as weather and earthquakes that directly impact our society, we have no coordinated, national capability to forecast ecological change.

NEON will serve as a platform to answer large-scale ecological questions, and will have applications such as:
  • Tracking pollution and potential environmental hazards - Surveillance of threats to ecological systems
  • Tracking of human, livestock and agricultural disease outbreaks (e.g. West Nile Virus, Hoof and Mouth disease, and Avian Flu) and analysis of associated risks.
  • Mitigation of natural (e.g. earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts) or unintentional disasters (oil spills, radioactive releases) that change ecological systems and lead to economic and cultural dislocations
  • Climate and water assessments and analysis ranging from the immediate to long-term
  • Biological/chemical agent detection and early warning system against attack
  • Weather forecasting and fire danger prediction
  • Evaluation of surface and subsurface waters
  • Evaluation of issues facing national forests and lakes, rivers and streams
  • Better management of natural resources
Request for Action
Urge support from the VA-HUD-IA appropriation's subcommittee for the President's Budget Request. The Administration's fiscal year 2003 request included $12 million in the National Science Foundation Major Research and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account for the project, specifically for proof of concept prototyping and the initiation of construction and networking at two initial sites. The Senate VA/HUD Appropriations bill contains no funding for the project in FY03.