Policy Statements » Letters from the President:

Dr. Jerry Melillo, President
Ecological Society of America

Testimony for Fiscal Year 2006 for the Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, and U.S. Geological Survey to the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

As President of the Ecological Society of America, I am pleased to provide written testimony for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Ecological Society of America has been the nation’s premier professional society of ecological scientists for 90 years, with a current membership of 9,000 researchers, educators, and managers. We appreciate the opportunity to offer written testimony on behalf of these three agencies.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Ecological Society of America is disappointed that the proposed budget for the EPA would reduce the agency’s Human Health and Ecosystems Program, which includes much valuable biological and ecological research. The agency is requesting $169.6 million for the program in FY 2006, a 4 percent drop from last year’s request. In addition, the agency’s valuable fellowship programs would stay at flat funding levels.
The Ecological Society of America is concerned about several science programs slated to be cut in the budget proposal: the ecosystem protection research program would be reduced by $5.8 million to $88 million, negatively affecting the Western Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), the National Coastal Assessment, the Regional Vulnerability Assessment tools and watershed modeling research. In addition, the proposed EPA budget also includes a $5.0 million (50 percent) cut to its exploratory grants program, which supports investigator-initiated research projects that address future or emerging environmental issues.

It is regrettable that the agency is slated to see no expansion of its valuable fellowship programs, which, when taken together, would be funded at the current level of $8.3 million. These include the Science to Achieve Results (STAR), Greater Research Opportunities (GRO), Environmental Science and Technology (EST) and Environmental Public Health (EPH) fellowship programs. EPA’s STAR Fellowship Program is of particular interest to our community. The program is the only one of its kind--funding graduate students conducting applied environmental research—and has had an excellent track record since its inception in 1995. An extremely competitive program—only 7 percent of applicants are awarded fellowships—the program has produced high quality research and is helping to train the next generation of environmental scientists.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide our comments on the Environmental Protection Agency and its proposed budget. Thank you for your consideration of our testimony.

U.S. Forest Service (FS)

The Ecological Society of America supports the President’s budget request for an increase in the Forest Service (FS) Research and Development (R&D) budget to $285 million. The FS is responsible for managing 191 million acres across the United States. This is no simple task considering that those acres are home to 360 endangered species and 2,500 sensitive species. Along with maintaining ecosystem sustainability, the FS is also charged with providing forest products from its lands for the economic well being of the surrounding communities. In order to complete these sometimes competing mandates, it is essential that the Forest Service have the ability to perform high level ecological analysis and research to ascertain the needs of the ecosystems that it manages.

The R&D division of the Forest Service provides this research, as well as critical support to land management activities on Forest Service land. It contributes to overall ecological knowledge and expertise, and is of great importance to the Society's membership. The Forest Service R&D budget is an essential element in the overall success of the Forest Service's mission, as it provides basic and applied research in the biological and physical sciences on national forests and grasslands. These lands are extremely diverse and biologically rich, providing a great store of information on ecology. The Forest Service's R&D has particular strengths in researching the habitat needs of wildlife species, watershed function, invasive species, aquatic habitats, and the role of the atmosphere and climate in forest health.

The Forest Service R&D, in cooperation with State and Private Forestry and the National Forest System, administers the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. FIA is the only program to comprehensively assess all of the nation’s forests in a nationally consistent manner across all land ownerships. Data collected through this program has been invaluable in helping government and non-government scientists document the role of US forests in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, a process that slows climate change. In FY 04, the Forest Service R&D expanded its inventory of America’s forests to two more states, bringing the total coverage to 83 percent of America’s forests. ESA supports the President’s request for full implementation of the FIA in all 50 states.

The Ecological Society is disappointed that the President’s budget request reduces funding for the National Fire Plan by $4.8 million. While funding for research on fuels will increase by $711,000 under the budget request, this will not offset the cuts to National Fire Plan research. The budget shortfall for fire research will ultimately hinder effective management of our nation’s forests. This is of particular concern given that the Healthy Forests Initiative is a far-reaching proposal that will require an increased and sustained level of scientific research in order to be successful. If fire research funds are reduced, the overall ecological integrity of our national forests may be sacrificed.

The Society remains concerned that the proposed Forest Service budget for fire fighting is inadequate. For several years, the FS and the Department of the Interior’s wildfire suppression costs have exceeded appropriated levels. To make up the difference, the agencies have transferred funds from other accounts to cover the costs, decreasing the ability to conduct research as well as necessary on-the-ground work such as rehabilitation and restoration, wildlife habitat improvements, and hazardous fuels reduction. A long-term solution to the lack of sufficient funding is needed to avoid negative consequences for the nation’s forests and for the communities that live, work and recreate in them. The Ecological Society supports the establishment of a non-discretionary fire emergency fund to ensure that both fire suppression and fire research needs are met in the future.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

ESA is grateful to Congress for its leadership in restoring past budget cuts and for report language supporting strengthening USGS core science programs and cooperative initiatives. We ask that Congress strongly consider funding USGS at $1 billion for fiscal year 2006. This 7.1 percent boost above the FY05 enacted level would restore proposed cuts to key agency programs and begin to reverse the nearly decade-long funding shortfall for this agency.

As the Department of Interior’s sole science agency, the USGS conducts research critical to Interior’s responsibilities in managing land, water and in protecting wildlife and environmental resources. In addition, USGS’s long-term monitoring programs, nationwide networks and multidisciplinary scope make USGS a unique and important research body in such areas as combating invasive species, maintaining water quality and quantity, and tracking wildlife diseases. These problems affect the health, well being and economic security of many U.S. residents, in addition to being key areas of ecological research.

The President’s budget would provide essentially flat funding to USGS’ biology division, a funding increase to the mapping program, and cuts to geology and water. Overall funding for the science agency would fall by 0.2 percent to $933.5 million. The Society is concerned that the proposed cuts would curb the agency’s ability to provide integrated scientific information. For example, proposed cuts to the Mineral Resources program would terminate research that has important implications for public health and environmental protection, such as studies on mercury, arsenic, and other inorganic toxins.

These proposed budget cuts would adversely affect the ability of the USGS to achieve its mission. We encourage Congress to restore these cuts, but this funding should not come at the expense of other high priority programs.

The USGS budget request would expand funding for several initiatives, including increases of $300,000 for invasive species research, $250,000 for ecological systems mapping, and $19.5 million for land remote sensing activities. It also would expand funding by $750,000 for the Science on the DOI Landscape initiative, a collaborative effort building on scientific expertise to meet regional priorities of Interior Bureaus and local communities. These initiatives would enhance and integrate ecological knowledge and deserve the support of Congress.

The USGS budget request for FY 06 provides full funding for increases in fixed costs such as employees’ salaries. In past years, increases in fixed costs were not accounted for in the budget and so were partially absorbed by individual programs, ultimately curtailing the USGS’ ability to carry out research in its core programs. The Ecological Society encourages Congress to meet the President’s budget request for full funding of fixed costs in FY 06 so that fixed costs will not be met at the expense of research.

The USGS is an exceptional and unique research organization. Many of the ecological problems that the USGS is charged with addressing require an interdisciplinary and integrative approach. USGS is positioned to utilize its expertise in geology, hydrology, geography and biology to address these complex problems so crucial to maintaining human and environmental health.

We hope that Congress will do its best to support USGS at the $1 billion level. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our request.