April 27, 2018

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

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), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Smithsonian Institution for fiscal year (FY) 2019. We encourage Congress to provide the USGS with $1.2 billion in FY 2019 and $174 million for the Ecosystems mission area. We ask that Congress restore support for the Biological Survey Unit to the FY 2018 level of $1.6 million and direct USGS to sustain the program. We further request that Congress provide EPA Science and Technology with at least $760 million, equal to the FY 2014 enacted level. We also request the restoration of funding for Science Support in USFWS to the FY 2017 enacted level of $17.0 million. Lastly, we urge Congress to provide new funding to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of Natural History.

AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to promoting 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.

The Ecosystems activity within USGS is integral to the agency's other science mission areas. It conducts research required to understand the impacts of such things as water use and natural hazards on environmental 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, housed within the Ecosystems line, collect and analyze 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. These tools require the input of information about plant species distribution, plant production, and how different animals within the landscape may influence the distribution of this vegetation.
  • 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, white-nose syndrome, chronic wasting disease, and other diseases spread by wildlife in North America.

The President's FY 2019 budget request cuts the Ecosystems mission by 40 percent relative to the FY 2017 enacted level. Simply put, there is no way the agency can absorb these cuts without negatively affecting scientific 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 data gathered are reliable and available for future scientific investigations.

Among the proposed reductions are:

  • Elimination of curation of and research on fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals that is conducted by the Biological Survey Unit at the Smithsonian Institution. USGS has more than a million specimens of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles that are housed at the Smithsonian. These curatorial and research positions are required to maintain and use these specimens and the data associated with them. This management arrangement has been in place since 1889.
  • Elimination of the Cooperative Research Units (CRUs). CRUs are located on 40 universities in 38 states and conduct actionable research, provide technical assistance, and develop scientific workforces through graduate education and mentoring programs.
  • Elimination of research on the ecological effects of fracking. Research by the USGS on this topic compliments research conducted by the EPA on water quality issues associated with fracking. This information is vital to federal and state management of energy development.
  • Reduced 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 required to fulfill agency missions to manage wildlife, as these agencies do not have scientific research capacities. Moreover, the USGS is a non-regulatory agency, which means that its research is independent of the entities responsible for developing and implementing rules and regulations.
  • Reduced research on ecosystems of concern. This research is a critical component of efforts to restore important national resources, 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 by monitoring avian influenza, which can spread to humans.

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

The President has also proposed cuts to climate research. The National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers (formerly regional Climate Science Centers) are responsible for developing the science and tools to address the effects of climate change on land, water, wildlife, fish, ecosystems, and communities. These centers play a vital role in addressing the unique weather patterns of different areas across the country and are slated for a 49 percent budget cut and possible closures. This is irresponsible.

We request Congress to fund the agency at $1.2 billion in FY 2019, with $174 million for the Ecosystems mission area and restored funding for the Biological Survey Unit, CRUs, and the climate science centers.

Environmental Protection Agency

Funding for EPA Science and Technology supports valuable research 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 provide at least $760.0 million in FY 2019 to support scientific research at the EPA.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The President's budget request eliminates 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, 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 means that USFWS will not have access to the unbiased data required 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, particularly the National Museum of Natural History, 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 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 National Museum of Natural History 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, such as the USGS, that support staff positions at the National Museum of Natural History.

We urge Congress to make additional investments in the National Museum of Natural History that will allow the museum to undertake critical collections care, make needed technology upgrades, and conduct cutting edge research.

Conclusion

We urge Congress to reject the Administration's budget request for FY 2019 and continue the bipartisan tradition of investing in our nation's scientific capacity.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.

Read more AIBS Position Statements

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