April 30, 2015

Testimony in Support of FY 2016 Funding for the United States Geological Survey, United States Forest Service, and Environmental Protection Agency

Submitted to:
Senate 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) 2016. AIBS encourages Congress to provide the USGS with $1.2 billion in FY 2016 and $176.3 million for the Ecosystems activity. We further request that Congress provide the USFS Forest and Rangeland Research program with at least $296.0 million, and EPA Science and Technology with at least $769.1 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 more than 140 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.

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 and evaluation of control measures for Asian carp, sea lamprey, Burmese pythons, and other invasive species that cause billions of dollars in economic losses.
  • New insights on the spread of avian flu, chronic wasting disease, and other wildlife diseases in North America.

The requested FY 2016 budget would support several important ecosystem science priorities at USGS. Science in support of critical landscapes, such as the Arctic and sage steppe, would be boosted. The budget would also focus research efforts on emerging invasive species and the declining status of native pollinators. USGS would support efforts to further the science and integration of ecosystems services frameworks into decision-making and implement efforts to assess and sustain the nation's environmental capital.

New funding is proposed for the Cooperative Research Units to increase undergraduate involvement in research. These efforts would complement the existing focus on graduate education. Roughly 500 graduate students each year receive training at Cooperative Research Units. Through the 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 studying the impacts of wildfires on forest ecology. The program is an efficient use of resources: each federal dollar invested in the program is leveraged more than five-fold.

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. An investment of $1.2 billion in the USGS and at least $176.3 million in the Ecosystems activity 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 2016 budget request would cut funding for Forest Service research by $4.0 million. Nearly all Forest Service research program areas are targeted for budget cuts. Six of seven research areas would be cut by 7 to 8 percent. Research on wildfires, invasive species, and resource management would be impacted.

Scaling back research efforts is a lost opportunity for USFS in fulfilling their mission to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands. Scientific information is needed to best manage public lands for economic development, recreational uses, and preservation of the natural environment.

We ask Congress to restore the proposed cuts and to fund the Forest and Rangeland Research program at $296.0 million, the same amount as in FY 2015.

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA 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 approximately 20 percent in nominal 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."

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 by bees and other species, and flood control. The program has been long underfunded, according to the EPA Science Advisory Board. The FY 2016 request would continue the declining funding trend with a $3 million cut. We ask that Congress address the chronic underfunding of the program.

Two valuable training opportunities for the next generation of scientists will be eliminated as part of a proposed government-wide reorganization of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education programs. Funding would be zeroed out for EPA Science to Achieve Results (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 elimination of these programs 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.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.

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