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Public Policy Report for 23 October 2006

AIBS Comments on NSTC Ocean Research Plan

On 20 October 2006, the American Institute of Biological Siences (AIBS) submitted comments to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) on the draft report, "Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States: Research Priorities for the Next Decade." The 60-plus page draft report outlines the national ocean research priorities for the United States for the next ten years. The report was called for in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, along with an Implementation Strategy.

An excerpt of the AIBS comments follows:

"The draft report focuses needed attention on a number of important research topics. For example, a concerted national research effort addressing the stewardship of our natural and cultural ocean resources, better understanding system resilience to natural events, improving ecosystem health, and better understanding the link between ocean, lake and coastal systems and human health are all timely research arenas that warrant a robust and sustained federal investment. However, a number of significant issues do not, at the surface, appear to have been addressed in the report. Thus, these comments are intended to raise these issues for the future consideration of the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST)."

"A significant concern with the draft report is that it fails to articulate the funding that will be sought to achieve the proposed goals. A number of the research activities proposed are already initiatives at various federal agencies, yet progress has been slow due to what some consider inadequate and unpredictable funding. A realistic budget request and multi-year commitment to federal research program managers would seem to be a central element necessary for the ultimate success of the JSOST research plan. "

"Another concern with the draft report is the lack of attention given to international collaboration. Effective and high-impact research on deep-ocean systems, the Great Lakes, or coastal ecosystems requires effective and strategic international collaboration. The final report would be greatly improved if it included a framework for supporting international research partnerships and collaborative agreements."

"Additionally, significant research questions about ocean, Great Lakes, and coastal ecosystem biodiversity remain unanswered. It is important that the final report fully reflect these research questions and needs. Scientists must be able to access and utilize state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment. In addition to new tools, such as the ocean observing system, the report should ensure that existing components of our research infrastructure are appropriately addressed. Research vessels, marine laboratories and field stations, natural science collections, and the human capital that utilize these facilities are all necessary to address the research agenda proposed in the draft report. In many cases, however, these science facilities require new investments to maintain their physical structures and construct the infrastructure, such as cyber infrastructure, that will make it possible to serve scientific research into the future. In each of the past two years, the research and development priorities memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has articulated the need to prioritize federal object-based scientific collections."

To view these or other recent AIBS statements, please go to http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/.

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NPS Gets New Director

Mary A. Bomar was sworn in as the 17th director of the National Park Service on 17 October 2006. Bomar, born in Leicester, England, is the first naturalized citizen to head the National Park Service. Her previous assignments have included heading-up the Northeast Region, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, the first superintendent at Oklahoma City National Memorial, acting superintendent at Rocky Mountain National Park, and assistant superintendent at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Bomar has worked for the National Park Service for 17 years.

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House Democrats Investigate EPA Library Plan

Senior House of Representatives members Bart Gordon (D-TN), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to close agency libraries and to digitize the library information system, including the cost and amount of time to complete the project. The lawmakers are concerned that library closures may not actually save the agency any money, at the same time making it more difficult for EPA employees and the public to access information. The GAO has granted the request to investigate the library closures, and is set to begin the review in sixty to ninety days, according to GAO spokesman Paul Anderson.

In other news, the EPA has also decided to reduce online journal and database access for its employees. According to a report by PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), emails from agency leadership have stated that reductions in journal access will vary within each region, depending on budget shortfalls. According to one email, "Region 3 [mid-Atlantic Region] needs to cut its journal renewals about in half and the journals in question are very expensive." Technical journals, as well as environmental news reports, such as Greenwire, will be targeted in the budget cuts. According to PEER, Greenwire received more than 125,000 hits from EPA employees last year. "EPA is entering its own Dark Age, where both the inward and outward flows of information are being strained through an ever-narrowing sieve," states PEER executive director Jeff Ruch.

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Border Fence Could Be Barrier to Wildlife

In a final push to advance immigration-reform legislation prior to the mid-term elections, the Senate approved the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061) before recessing in September. President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law on 6 October 2006, temporarily ending the immigration debate.

The legislation approved by Congress authorizes construction of a 700-mile fence along the border between the United States and Mexico. Under the new law, fences will be built in several locations. Among the areas scheduled for a fence is the border between Calexico, California and Douglas, Arizona, from Columbus, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas, from the Gulf of Mexico to Laredo, Texas, and from Eagle to Del Rio, Texas. Local governments will be involved in the fence planning, and where necessary, other avenues of border protection can be used, such as the "virtual fence," according to last minute language added to the legislation.

Environmental organizations and scientists across the southwest have decried the border fence as an ecological travesty. "This is a disaster for the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, Sonoran pronghorn and all of the other wildlife species of our borderlands. The only thing the wall won't stop is people," said Michael Finkelstein, executive director of the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. "The Sky Island region is a premier example of the interconnectedness of ecosystems -- it spans the temperate and sub-tropical, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan. What would a wall mean for the jaguar, for the ocelot, the black-tailed prairie dog, or hundreds of other species (including various species of low-flying birds) that rely upon the ability to travel between our two countries for their daily, seasonal, or annual life-cycle needs?" asks Matt Skroch, executive director and biologist for the Sky Islands Alliance.

The border land between the U.S. and Mexico represents an already threatened junction between two fragile ecosystems—the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. This land area is often referred to as the "Sky Islands" because it encompasses forty forested mountain ranges that connect the U.S. Rocky Mountains to the Mexican Sierra Madres. These two ecosystems are utilized by several wide-ranging species that do not pay attention to political borders. The fence would be placed through this ecoregion, possibly reducing the dispersal capability of animal species. Federal managers on the San Bernadino National Wildlife Refuge outside of Douglas, Arizona are also concerned about the fence. "The fence would have a negative effect on everything from the insects...to the birds that eat them, right up to the large predators like the jaguars," says William Radke, the refuge manager (from Reuters 29 September 2006).

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New in BioScience — “Global Warming: Congress Still Stalled, States and Cities Act”

In the October 2006 Washington Watch article in BioScience, Barton Reppert reports that in the absence of a federal policy direction, state and local governments are beginning to address global climate change on their own.

Following is a brief excerpt from the article:

Back in 1992, Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) introduced legislation aimed at dealing with global climate change by controlling emissions of greenhouse gases. Fourteen years later, the California Democrat and other environmentally conscious lawmakers are still waiting for Congress to act and set US national policy on global warming.

On 20 June 2006, Waxman and 12 cosponsors launched another effort, introducing the Safe Climate Act (H.R. 5642). “Global warming is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, and we have a short window in which to act to prevent profound changes in the climate system,” Waxman declared. “Unless we seize the opportunity to act now, our legacy to our children and grandchildren will be an unstable and dangerous planet.” He added that “it’s simply too late for legislative baby steps.”

To read the balance of the article for free, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2006_10.html.

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