Policy Statements » Letters from the President:

Dr. Jerry Melillo , President
Ecological Society of America Testimony for Fiscal Year 2006 for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation to the
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies

As President of the Ecological Society of America, I am pleased to provide written testimony for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation . 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.

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Of particular interest to our community are NOAA's offices of the National Ocean Service (budget request is $414.7 million), the National Marine Fisheries Service (proposed budget is $727.9 million), and the Oceans and Atmospheric Research (budget request is $372.2 million). These offices support intramural and extramural research critical to NOAA's mission of managing marine and coastal resources to meet the nation's environmental, economic, and social needs.

NOAA is the only institution that collects and utilizes nationwide atmospheric and oceanic data. Its research on fisheries and coastal processes has become increasingly important as pressures on coastal areas and on fish populations grow. In-house NOAA research is an essential element of ecological research and provides stock assessments, basic research on fish species and marine mammals, as well as marine habitats. Without this research, NOAA could not meet its obligations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act or the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act and our scientific understanding of these topics would be greatly diminished. In addition to its intramural research programs, NOAA is a major funder of many important external research endeavors including research focused on harmful algal blooms, toxic contamination of estuaries, coastal habitat loss, non-point source pollution, and fishing gear impacts.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provides the science necessary for revitalization of the nation's fisheries resources and for the sustainability of the nation's marine resources. The Administration is proposing cutting NMFS by $95.8 million, although funding for stock assessments and protected species research and management would increase. While these are worthy areas of research, they should not come at the expense of other important programs such as habitat conservation and restoration.

Within the National Ocean Service, two programs fund coastal ecological assessment or research. The Ocean Assessment Program, which funds critical monitoring projects such as coastal observing systems, would receive $55.2 million for FY 2006. This represents a dramatic drop from the $146.9 million approved by Congress in FY 2005. ESA appreciates past congressional support of this monitoring program and encourages support beyond the Administration's request.

The National Ocean Service also requests $48 million for the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), which joins NOAA's five coastal research centers. This request is $11.6 million below the amount appropriated for FY 2005. ESA urges that funding for this program be restored to FY 2005 levels, as NCCOS activities focus on five areas of ecosystem research that are national in scope and crucial to the nation's research needs: climate change, extreme natural events, pollution, invasive species and land and resource use.

The Administration's FY 2006 budget request for ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes research through the Oceans and Atmospheric Research ( OAR ) office is $118.6 million, a 19.2 percent decrease from FY 2005 enacted levels. ESA appreciates past congressional support of this monitoring program and encourages support beyond the Administration's request. Of particular importance to ESA is the National Sea Grant Program, administered by OAR , which supports research, education, and extension projects to help the U.S. better manage its coastal resources. The Administration requests stable funding ($61.2 million) for the National Sea Grant Program for FY 2006. The Ecological Society of America appreciates the recognition by Congress and the Administration that this highly successful program is an important component of our coastal policy. We acknowledge the current budget constraints but would like to see this program's funding grow in the future.

In addition, the National Undersea Research Program, which places scientists under the sea to conduct research, would fall by $1 million under the President's proposal. If this decrease were to go into effect, it would cut underwater ecosystem science projects—which support coastal and ocean resource management—by 20 percent. ESA urges that funding for this program be restored to the FY 2005 level.

NOAA's research programs provide the nation with valuable understanding of the workings of the oceans and atmosphere. NOAA has greatly advanced the field of ecological science through both its in-house science programs and its commitment to funding external research. The Ecological Society of America thanks Congress for its past strong support of these programs and asks for its support in ensuring that NOAA retains its ability to wisely manage the nation's coastal and marine resources using the best scientific information.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The Ecological Society of America is disappointed that earth science research is not a priority in the President's budget request for NASA in FY 2006. Although NASA's total Research and Development would grow to $11.5 billion, research in the earth sciences (down 4 percent to $2.1 billion), and biological and physical research (down 22 percent to $807 million), would face steep cuts in research on our home planet in order to fund space exploration.

ESA urges that funding for this program be restored to the FY 2005 level and that NASA increase its in-house research on environmental science. Currently, NASA is the leading federal sponsor of the environmental sciences (oceanography, atmospheric sciences, geological sciences). The environmental sciences are a quarter of NASA's portfolio, but NASA accounts for a third of total federal support for environmental sciences research. NASA has played a vital role in developing the nation's capability to observe and understand earth systems, including research on climate change, remote sensing technology, ecosystem monitoring, and energy cycling. At a time when the nation and the globe face increasing environmental and natural resource challenges, we believe it is critical to continue to support NASA's earth systems research.

National Science Foundation

In order to ensure the nation's future prosperity and security, the Ecological Society of America requests that the committee fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $6 billion. We recognize the current fiscal climate, but federal investment in this agency—the only one to fund science and education across all disciplines—has yielded tremendous national benefits.

One indicator of the need to support NSF is the agency's low grant proposal success rate—in 2004, 5,400 proposals rated “very good” or “excellent” by NSF's peer review process were passed over due to lack of funds. The grant proposal success rate for the Biology Directorate is among the lowest of all the NSF directorates. We are concerned that the low grant success rate will eventually affect the choices of U.S. students as to whether or not they will choose to enter the field of ecology, a science that is crucial to meeting emerging environmental challenges.

We ask for Congress's support in recognizing the unique role NSF plays in supporting non-medical biology. NSF is the principal federal supporter of academic, non-medical research in biology and ecology; over 60 percent of the extramural funding for this type of research comes from the NSF. Research made possible by funding from NSF has shed much light on key environmental processes, the interactions among organisms, and the complex responses of ecosystems to stresses such as air and water pollutants. The knowledge gained from this research is critical input to the wise management of the environment for the benefit of humankind.

Within the Biology Directorate, the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) supports fundamental research on the evolutionary history of species and on the interactions of biological communities and ecosystems, ranging from the relatively undisturbed to heavily human-impacted systems. DEB-supported researchers address a range of issues important to all of us—the consequences of excess nitrogen in the environment; the costly effects of invasive plants and animals; and the potential impacts of climate change on the nation's ecosystems and biodiversity.

In addition to supporting core biology funding, the Biology Directorate includes other programs important to the ecological community, such as the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program and the agency's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). We ask that the subcommittee support the budget request of $17.5 million (no change from last year's enacted amount) for LTER and $3.8 million (a 10 percent increase) for NCEAS.

Finally, we encourage support of the agency's request for $6 million for the National Ecological Observatory Network ( NEON ) within Biology's Research and Related Activities Account. This request would continue development of the NEON execution plan and of related cyberstructure, which is a key component of the NEON program. NEON has the potential to integrate existing environmental monitoring efforts by standardizing the way in which data are collected and thereby improving the nation's overall ability to track environmental changes.

ESA thanks Congress for its strong support of the National Science Foundation. As the only federal agency to support science and education across all disciplines, NSF's contributions have been extremely valuable to the U.S. research enterprise. We hope that Congress will ensure the agency continues on this path, with support across all science disciplines and recognition of the vital role NSF plays in supporting non-medical biology.