May 24, 2017

Submitted to: House 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), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Smithsonian Institution for fiscal year (FY) 2018. We encourage Congress to provide the USGS with $1.2 billion in FY 2018 and $173.9 million for the Ecosystems mission area. 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 $715 million. We also request the restoration of funding for Science Support in USFWS to the FY 2017 enacted level of $17.0 million. Lastly, we support $729.4 million for Smithsonian salaries and expenses, the same as in FY 2017.

The AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing informed decision-making that advances biological research and education for the benefit of science and 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 individual members and more than 130 member organizations with a combined individual membership and staff of more than 200,000.

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 enabling more effective management of water and biological 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 conducting the research required to understand 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 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 wildfire 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 annually.
  • New insights on the spread of avian flu, chronic wasting disease, and other diseases spread by wildlife in North America.

The President's FY 2018 budget request would cut the Ecosystems mission by 17 percent relative to the FY 2017 enacted level. Simply put, there is no way the agency can absorb these cuts without negatively affecting research and jeopardizing data quality. As a science agency, much of the USGS budget is dedicated to staff as well as equipment and facilities that must be maintained and updated to ensure the continuity of data acquisition and that the data gathered are reliable and available for future scientific investigations. The leadership of the USGS is doing all they can, and has been for a number of years, to contain costs while continuing to deliver high quality science.

Among the proposed reductions are:

  • Elimination of curation of and research on biological collections at the Smithsonian Institution. USGS has more than a million specimens of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles that are housed at the Smithsonian. This arrangement goes back to 1889.
  • Elimination of research on the ecological effects of fracking. Research by the USGS on this topic compliments research conducted by EPA on water quality issues associated with fracking. This information is vital to federal and state management of energy development.
  • Reduce wildlife and fisheries research. USGS conducts this research for the benefit of federal and state stakeholders. Without these research programs, USFWS, the National Park Service, and other Interior bureaus will not have the scientific information needed to fulfill their agency missions to manage wildlife, as these agencies do not have the scientific capacity of the USGS.
  • Reduced research on ecosystems of concern. This research is a critical component of efforts to restore important national treasures, such as the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay. The Arctic ecosystem research and monitoring program addresses the needs of Native communities, and also promotes public health throughout the US through monitoring avian flu.

Although we are pleased that the Invasive Species Program and Cooperative Research Units were spared from cuts in the Administration's request, we urge Congress to reject the deep cuts to other parts of the Ecosystems mission area.

U.S. Forest Service

USFS 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. This research also saves lives and prevents property damage from wildfires.

Forest and Rangeland Research is proposed for a 10.2 percent cut in the FY 2018 budget request. Because the administration's request specifies that forest inventory and analysis be held at the FY 2017 enacted level, the remaining six research areas would be subject to a collective 14 percent cut. This would negatively impact research on wildfires, invasive species, and forest management, and will have negative consequences for Americans' safety, health, and enjoyment of public forests.

We ask Congress to fund the Forest and Rangeland Research program at $296.0 million, the same amount as in FY 2015. Continued cuts to research will hinder the USFS's ability to fulfill its mission to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands.

Environmental Protection Agency

Funding for EPA Science and Technology supports valuable research that is used to identify and mitigate environmental problems facing our nation. EPA 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, this program provides the scientific basis upon which EPA monitoring and enforcement programs are built.

Despite the important role of the Science and Technology appropriation, the proposed funding level for FY 2018 is roughly half of what the program received in FY 2002. The EPA Science Advisory Board has expressed concern repeatedly about the long-term decline in research funding at EPA. "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."

We are especially concerned to see the proposed eliminations of the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants and climate change research. These programs are important parts of the federal government's ability to ensure clean air and water for its citizens.

We ask Congress to fund the program at $715.0 million in FY 2018.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The President's budget request would eliminate the Science Support program within USFWS. This program provides scientific information needed by USFWS, such as research on conservation of priority species prior to Endangered Species Act listing, on the impacts of energy production on wildlife, and best management practices for combating invasive species. For this program to be eliminated in conjunction with significant reductions in USGS biological research would mean that USFWS will have very little scientific information available as it tries to fulfill its mission to conserve, protect, and enhance the living resources of the United States for the benefit of the American people.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution is a valuable federal partner in the curation and research on scientific specimens. The scientific experts at the National Museum of Natural History care for an astounding 140 million specimens and ensure the strategic growth of this national treasure. To increase the availability of these scientific resources to researchers, educators, other federal agencies, and the public, Smithsonian is working on a multi-year effort to digitize its collections. That effort will substantially increase the scientific uses of these collections.

The Smithsonian has also been working to strengthen curatorial and research staffing and to backfill positions left open by retirements and budget constraints. The current staffing level is insufficient to provide optimal care for the collections. Future curatorial and collections management staffing levels may be further jeopardized given the proposed funding cuts at science agencies that support staff positions embedded at Smithsonian, such as the U.S. Geological Survey.

Conclusion

We urge Congress to reject the Administration's budget request for FY 2018 and to continue the bipartisan tradition of investing in our nation's scientific capacity.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.

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