April 25, 2013

Testimony in Support of FY 2014 Funding for the United States Geological Survey, United States Forest Service, and Environmental Protection Agency

Submitted by:
Julie Palakovich Carr
Senior Public Policy Associate
Richard O'Grady, Ph.D.
Executive Director

American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-628-1500

Submitted to:
House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to provide testimony in support of appropriations for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Forest Service (USFS), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for fiscal year (FY) 2014. AIBS encourages Congress to provide the USGS with at least $1.167 billion in FY 2014, with at least $180.8 million for the Ecosystems activity. We further request that Congress provide the USFS Forest and Rangeland Research program with at least $310.2 million, and EPA's Office of Research and Development with at least $600 million.

The AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. AIBS works to ensure that the public, legislators, funders, and the community of biologists have access to and use information that will guide them in making informed decisions about matters that require biological knowledge. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, AIBS has nearly 160 member organizations and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with a Public Policy Office in Washington, DC.

U.S. Geological Survey

The USGS provides unbiased, independent research, data, and assessments that are needed by public and private sector decision-makers. Data generated by the USGS save taxpayers money by reducing economic losses from natural disasters, allowing more effective management of water and natural resources, and providing essential geospatial information that is needed for commercial activity and natural resource management. The data collected by the USGS are not available from other sources and our nation cannot afford to sacrifice this information.

The Ecosystems activity within USGS underpins the agency's other science mission areas by providing information needed for understanding the impacts of water use, energy exploration and production, and natural hazards on natural systems. The USGS conducts research on and monitoring of fish, wildlife, and vegetation - data that informs management decisions by other Interior bureaus regarding protected species and land use. Biological science programs within the USGS gather long-term data not available from other sources. The knowledge generated by USGS programs is used by federal and state natural resource managers to maintain healthy and diverse ecosystems while balancing the needs of public use.

Other examples of successful USGS Ecosystem initiatives include:

  • Development of comprehensive geospatial data products that characterize the risk of wildfires on all lands in the United States. These products are used to allocate firefighting resources and to plan fuel reduction projects.
  • Identification of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is devastating U.S. bat populations and could jeopardize the multi-billion dollar pest control services provided by bats.
  • Identification and evaluation of control measures for Asian carp, sea lamprey, Burmese pythons, and other invasive species that cause billions of dollars in economic losses.
  • Study of the impacts of solar energy and other next generation energy sources on wildlife and endangered species.

The requested FY 2014 budget would support several important ecosystem science priorities at USGS. The budget would implement a recommendation by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to integrate information on the condition of U.S. ecosystems. The budget request would also enable the USGS to develop methodologies to better prevent, detect, and control Asian carp and other invasive species. USGS would be able to provide enhanced surveillance and diagnostic tools, and develop management tools for white-nose syndrome and other ecologically and economically costly wildlife diseases. Additionally, USGS would be able to study and better inform decisions about new energy sources.

The request also includes additional funding for water quality research, including in the areas of fisheries and contaminant biology. The budget would support development of a new system for access and use of water budget information. A central part of this new initiative is streamflow information collected by USGS' national network of streamgages.

Through the Cooperative Research Units, the USGS and their partners address pressing issues facing natural resource managers at the local, state, and federal levels. Examples of recent research initiatives include studying the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on wildlife and fisheries, and improving management of elk and waterfowl. In addition to providing research expertise, these partnerships at 40 universities in 38 states serve as important training centers for America's next generation of scientists and resource managers. More than 500 graduate students each year receive training at Cooperative Research Units. The program is also an efficient use of resources: each federal dollar invested in the program is leveraged more than three-fold. A modest increase is proposed for FY 2014.

Although the proposed budget supports many USGS priorities, the requested funding level would result in $36.6 million in cuts to programs that support agency core missions. The agency proposed these reductions to offset increases in fixed costs and to attain greater cost efficiencies.

In summary, the USGS is uniquely positioned to provide a scientific context for many of the nation's biological and environmental challenges, including water quality and use, energy independence, and conservation of biological diversity. This array of research expertise not only serves the core missions of the Department of the Interior, but also contributes to management decisions made by other agencies and private sector organizations. USGS science is also cost-effective, as the agency's activities help to identify the most effective management actions. In short, increased investments in these important research activities will yield dividends.

U.S. Forest Service

United States Forest Service research provides scientific information and new technologies to support sustainable management of the nation's forests and rangelands. These products and services increase the basic biological and physical knowledge of the composition, structure, and function of forest, rangeland, and aquatic ecosystems.

The FY 2014 budget request would support key areas of scientific research, the outcomes of which will inform sustainable management of the nation's forests and rangelands. USFS' research on wildland fire and fuels evaluates the effectiveness of hazardous fuels treatments and helps managers as they protect life and property and restore fire-adapted ecosystems. Research would also continue on priority invasive species, such as emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly adelgid, which have caused extensive damage to forests and local economies.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Office of Research and Development (ORD) supports valuable extramural and intramural research that is used to identify and mitigate environmental problems facing our nation. ORD research informs decisions made by public health and safety managers, natural resource managers, businesses, and other stakeholders concerned about air and water pollution, human health, and land management and restoration. In short, ORD provides the scientific basis upon which EPA monitoring and enforcement programs are built.

Despite the important role played by ORD, its funding has declined by 28.5 percent in Gross Domestic Product-indexed dollars since FY 2004, when it peaked at $646.5 million. "This long-term decline has limited and will continue to limit the research that can be conducted to support the agency's effort to protect human health and the environment," according to the EPA's Science Advisory Board. "These limitations pose a vulnerability for EPA at a time when the agency faces significant science questions with long-term implications for protecting the environment and public health."

At $554.1 million, the budget request for FY 2014 falls far short of addressing past and current shortfalls. We ask that Congress restore funding for ORD to at least the FY 2010 enacted level.

The Ecosystem Services Research program within ORD is responsible for enhancing, protecting, and restoring ecosystem services, such as clean air and water, rich soil for crop production, pollination, and flood control. The program has been long underfunded, according to the EPA Science Advisory Board, with a 58 percent budget decline over the last decade. We ask that Congress address the chronic underfunding of the program.

The Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program supports valuable research on human health and the environment through competitively awarded research grants. The program enables EPA to fill information gaps that are not addressed by intramural EPA research programs or by other federal agencies.

Two valuable training opportunities for the next generation of scientists will be removed from EPA as part of a proposed government-wide consolidation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education programs. Funding would be zeroed out for EPA STAR graduate fellowships and Greater Research Opportunities undergraduate fellowships. The Science Advisory Board "considers it a priority to increase STAR fellowships, if possible, because support for environmental scientists at an early stage in their careers is a cost-effective way to advance ORD's strategic goals." The National Academy of Sciences called the fellowship "a valuable mechanism for enabling a continuing supply of graduate students in environmental sciences and engineering." We are concerned that the consolidation of these programs at the National Science Foundation will be detrimental to preparation of the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers. We ask for the program to remain at EPA and to be supported at an adequate funding level.

ORD's Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program supports research that underpins safe drinking water for society. The program's research also focuses on better understanding resiliency of watersheds to stressors and factors that affect watershed restoration. The budget request would allow the program to pursue research that will inform decisions about water safety and to ensure the sustainability of our wetlands.

In conclusion, we urge Congress to restore funding for the ORD to the FY 2010 enacted level. These appropriation levels would allow ORD to address a backlog of research needs.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.

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