Forest Service Freezes Spending to Pay for Fire Fighting

The head of the U.S. Forest Service has ordered a spending freeze on restoration programs, employee travel, hiring, and overtime in order to cover $600 million in additional costs related to fighting wildfires. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell made the announcement in a memo in mid-August.

“It has been another long, tragic fire season and we have several more months of intense activity ahead of us,” Tidwell wrote to regional foresters and station and area directors. “As predicted this year’s fire season has led to costs that exceed appropriated fire suppression funds and once again we must now transfer funds from other accounts to make up the difference.”

The Forest Service has spent about a billion dollars this year on wildlife suppression, according to agency spokesman Mike Ferris. Although the number of fires and the areal coverage of the fires are less than the ten-year average, the season has been more costly because the fires have burned longer and many are located close to human settlements.

Tidwell acknowledged in the memo that borrowing funds within the agency to cover the costs of fire suppression “will have significant effects on the public whom we serve and on our many valuable partners, as well as agency operations, target accomplishments and performance.”

This is not the first time the U.S. Forest Service has had to reallocate funds to cover fire costs. The agency has borrowed $2.7 billion from itself over the past decade. Congress eventually restored about $2.3 billion of these funds.

“I regret that we have to take this action and fully understand that it only increases costs and reduces efficiency,” said Tidwell. “I remain committed to finding a solution that in the future will avoid this disruption to our public service and land stewardship responsibilities and impacts to local economies.”

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Graduate Students Propose Innovations for Higher Education

Enterprising graduate students have proposed more than 500 ideas of how to improve graduate programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The entries were solicited as part of the Innovation in Graduate Education challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

First prize was awarded for an idea to create a comprehensive online portal for graduate students to help them find an advisor, manage their path to graduation, and find a job. Kevin Disotell, a Ph.D. candidate at The Ohio State University, won $3,000 for the concept.

Other winning ideas include training graduate students in narrative story telling to better communicate their research, creating ‘equality ambassadors’ to facilitate dialogue around issues on women in science, and offering students the opportunity to engage in external graduate assistantships in government, industry, or non-profits.

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Final Gulf of Mexico Restoration Plan Released

The panel in charge of overseeing restoration plans for the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident has released its plan for how to spend the billions of dollars it expects to receive from civil fines.

The plan sets overarching goals for restoring and protecting natural environments and the regional economy. Although it does not include a list of priority projects and programs, the plan spells out the principles that will be used to make those decisions.

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, the federal-state advisory group established by the RESTORE Act, will oversee the allocation of 60 percent of the civil fines collected by the federal government. Half of those funds will be used on projects that represent “the best available science.” The other half of the money will be allocated to the Gulf States based on the impacts of the oil spill, subject to Council approval.

After receiving 41,000 public comments, the Council made some changes to the document. One is the incorporation of plans to “consider the most effective means of ensuring that its decisions are based on the best available science.” Options include creating a science advisory committee or hiring a chief scientist.

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Publishers Collaborating on Public Access to Scholarly Publications

A group of scientific publishers is collaborating to create a platform that will enable readers to access, free of charge, full-text versions of all peer-reviewed articles reporting the results of federally funded research. The Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS) is a public-private partnership of over 70 organizations, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which aims to increase public access to peer-reviewed publications resulting from federally funded research by building on the publishers’ existing infrastructure. The groups plan to launch a pilot platform by the end of September. The tool could also reduce the compliance burden for authors and funding agencies by integrating public access into the publishing process.

CHORUS will comply with the White House’s 2013 memo on public access while “building on publishers’ existing, proven infrastructure; avoiding duplication of effort; minimizing taxpayer cost; and ensuring the critical sustainability of the scholarly community system,” according to a statement from the backers of CHORUS.

22 August 2013 was the deadline for federal agencies to submit their plans for expanding public access to federally funded research to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Only agencies that fund over $100 million in extramural research annually are required to comply with the OSTP directive on open access. The agency plans are not expected to be made public at this time.

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NSF Announces Opportunity in Forensic Science

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is circulating a ‘dear colleague’ letter to prompt research proposals that address basic research questions and simultaneously advance activities related to research and education in forensic sciences.

NSF is interested in receiving proposals that encourage collaboration between forensic scientists and fundamental science researchers. Potential topics of collaboration include:

  • The effect of cognitive bias on judgment and decision making within a forensic setting.
  • Acquisition of shared-use major instrumentation for researchers engaged in fundamental studies, including forensics-relevant research.
  • New approaches to acquiring, storing, accessing, and interpreting large data sets, including biological data.
  • Pathways linking genotype to phenotype.
  • Development of methods to determine provenance of forensic samples, including applications of geospatial analysis or measurement.
  • Design, implementation, and evaluation of the vertical integration of a forensic science conceptual approach throughout the sequence of courses within a traditional STEM discipline.

Read the full letter at

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Enter the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers to better understand these broader impacts in biological research by entering the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The theme of the contest is broader impacts of biology. Photographs entered into the contest should demonstrate how biological research is transforming our society and the world. Examples of broader impacts include, but are not limited to, informing natural resources management, improving human health, addressing climate change, enhancing food or energy security, advancing foundational knowledge, and improving science education.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The contest ends on 30 September 2013 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today! (

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues. These exciting new advocacy tools allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Entomological Society of America, Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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