March 15, 2019

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), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Smithsonian Institution for fiscal year (FY) 2020. We encourage Congress to provide the USGS with $1.2 billion in FY 2020 and at least $234 million for the Ecosystems mission area within USGS. We further request that Congress provide EPA Science and Technology with at least $760 million, which was equal to the FY 2014 enacted level. We also request the restoration of funding for Science Support in USFWS to the FY 2019 enacted level of $17.3 million. Lastly, we urge Congress to provide new funding to the Smithsonian Institution and at least $53 million to support scientific and curatorial work within the National Museum of Natural History in FY 2020.

AIBS is a 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 information to guide informed decision-making.

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 monitors fish, wildlife, and vegetation--data that informs management decisions by other Interior bureaus.

Biological science programs, housed within the Ecosystems program area, collect and analyze long-term data not available from other sources. Other agencies, universities, and the private sector do not gather or maintain these data. 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 current and accurate information about plant species distribution, biomass (e.g. amount of energy available for fire), and how different animals within the landscape influence the distribution of this vegetation.
  • Development and evaluation of control measures and other management interventions for Asian carp, sea lamprey, Burmese pythons, and other invasive species that cause billions of dollars in economic losses to fisheries, hydropower, recreation, and many other industries.
  • Development of the scientific understanding needed to combat the spread of avian flu, white-nose syndrome, chronic wasting disease, and other diseases spread by wildlife in North America, including diseases with the capacity to jump from wild populations to livestock, agricultural systems, and humans.

The President's FY 2020 budget request restructures the Ecosystems mission area to include programs formerly under Land Resources and Environmental Health mission areas, specifically the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, significant portions of Land Change Science, and Contaminant Biology. The budget does not merely reposition these programs, it proposes deep cuts (nearly 35%) to this important work. These cuts will harm USGS scientific research.

Among the proposed cuts are:

  • Elimination of curation 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 for the benefit of the USGS and Department of the Interior. 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 this program jeopardizes the ability of the USGS to access timely and accurate data required for biodiversity research that informs species management decisions by other state and federal agencies.
  • Elimination of the Cooperative Research Units (CRUs). CRUs are located on 40 university campuses in 38 states. These research centers are a cost-effective way for USGS to leverage research and technical expertise affiliated with these universities to conduct actionable research, provide technical assistance, and develop scientific workforces through graduate education and mentoring programs.
  • Reduced wildlife and fisheries research. The proposal includes reductions for species-specific 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 lack the data 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 diseases. USGS is the leading Federal agency conducting research on wildlife and fish diseases. The deep cuts proposed to Toxicological and Pathogenic Diseases would crush the agency's ability to provide other agencies with critical research, information, and technical assistance needed to economically and effectively control and limit disease spread and risk.
  • 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.

The President has also proposed drastic 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 impacts of unique weather patterns on ecosystem health in different areas across the country and are slated for a 46 percent budget cut under the new structure. This is irresponsible.

We are pleased that the Invasive Species Program was spared from large cuts in the Administration's request and we urge Congress to reject the deep cuts to other parts of the Ecosystems mission area. We understand USGS's efforts to realign programs to improve operational efficiency, but the devastating budget cuts proposed will hamper long-term data collection initiatives, lead to critical data loss, and undermine the nation's ability to address national challenges.

We request Congress fund USGS at $1.2 billion in FY 2020, with at least $234 million for the Ecosystems mission area and restore funding for the Biological Survey Unit, CRUs, and ecosystems and climate research.

Environmental Protection Agency

Funding for EPA Science and Technology supports valuable research used to identify and mitigate environmental problems. 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. This program provides the scientific basis upon which EPA monitoring and enforcement programs are built.

Despite the important role of EPA Science and Technology research, the proposed funding level for FY 2020 is roughly half of what the program received in FY 2002 and 35 percent below the FY 2019 enacted level. We are concerned to see the proposed eliminations of the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants and the Global Change Research program, which develops scientific information that allows policy makers, stakeholders, and society to respond to climate change. These programs are important parts of the federal government's ability to ensure that people have clean air and water. The proposal also eliminates the Marine Pollution and National Estuary programs which are critical for protecting marine and coastal ecosystems.

Please provide at least $760 million in FY 2020 to support scientific research at the EPA.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The President's budget request once again eliminates the Science Support program within USFWS. In FY 2019, Congress allocated $17.3 million for the program. 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, and needs to be restored.

Smithsonian Institution

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

NMNH 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 NMNH.

The budget for NMNH has remained flat over the past two years. We urge Congress to provide NMNH with at least $53 million in FY 2020 to 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 2020 and 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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