Policy Statements » Letters from the President:

NRI Competitive Grants Program

Secretary Daniel R. Glickman
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Room 200A
14th Street & Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

November 22, 2000

Dear Secretary Glickman:

As President of the Ecological Society of America, the nation's premier professional society of 7,800 members, I write to express our disappointment in the decision to cut the Ecosystem Science Program area of the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program.

I understand that the overall NRI was cut, which is extremely unfortunate given the number of excellent research areas supported by USDA’s competitive grants program. One of these, the Ecosystem Science Program supports research that addresses vital questions about the processes and functions of ecosystems that are the foundation of the Nation’s agricultural and forest productivity. For example, the NRI provided support that resulted in an integrated study published in Science (Matson, P.A., R.L. Naylor and I. Ortiz-Monasterio. 1998. Integration of Environmental, Agronomic, and Economic Aspects of Fertilizer Management. Science 280:112-115). This research identified the causes and consequences of fertilizer management decisions among farmers in irrigated wheat systems, and developed "win-win" alternatives that could save farmers money while reducing the loss of nitrogen from agricultural systems to surface water and the atmosphere.

The Ecosystem Science program supports basic research that addresses critical management issues pertaining to the nation's forests. NRI-funded research in Yellowstone National Park documented the spatial patterns of establishment and genetic diversity of seedling aspen following the 1988 fires and used field experiments to determine the mechanisms that might contribute to the persistence or loss of seedling aspen in this landscape. In addition, NRI supports research necessary for maintaining the health of the Nation’s rangelands. Yet, a crucial study on the long-term impact of elevated CO2 on Colorado rangelands will be prematurely terminated because of the lack of Ecosystem Science support.

NRI overall, with its focus on supporting peer-reviewed research in the biological, environmental, physical, and social sciences to address overarching questions relevant to agriculture deserves strong support. Many of the Society’s members investigate these very research questions and were dismayed at the sudden decision to cancel outright the entire Ecosystem Science Program for fiscal year 2001. We would be interested in learning about future plans for the NRI and for the Ecosystem Science Program in particular. How does the Department plan to address these pressing research needs?

Thank you for your attention to our concerns.


Stephen R. Carpenter

cc: Charles Laughlin, Administrator, CSREES
Ann Vidaver, Chief Scientist, NRI