Lawmakers Consider Overhaul of the Endangered Species Act

The Senate Energy and Public Works Committee is considering amendments to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) following a recent committee hearing that explored how the law could be updated.

Committee chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) said: “States, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders are all making it clear that the Endangered Species Act is not working today.” He based this conclusion on the fact that “less than 3 percent of species in the United States under the protection of the Endangered Species Act have recovered sufficiently to no longer necessitate the protection of the statute.”

“We need to be very thoughtful about what modernization means, the proposals we review and the consequences we would inflict,” stated the panel’s ranking Democratic member Senator Tom Carper (DE). He cited E.O. Wilson, a preeminent scholar of biodiversity, who warned that the world could lose up to half of all species in the next century.

Supporters of ESA, including Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, and Dan Ashe, President and CEO of Associations of Zoos and Aquariums, defended the Act by highlighting that 99 percent of the species listed have been saved from extinction. Ms. Rappaport Clark argued that “we cannot rush nature to recovery” and that there isn’t a need for modernization, but rather increased funding to support the Act. Mr. Ashe reasoned that there needs to be “careful consideration of context” when modernization is discussed as saving species becomes increasingly difficult given that we are living through Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

Opponents to ESA argue that the Act infringes on state and private rights and impedes oil drilling and mining. They also assert that the Act is ineffective since only about 50 species of the 1600 species listed have been removed from the list.

The ESA became law in 1973 when Congress passed legislation with near unanimous support.

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Senate Bill Introduced to Protect Scientific Integrity

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is sponsoring legislation to “protect scientific integrity” at federal agencies. S. 338 would require agencies with science programs to adopt and implement scientific integrity policies that include whistleblower protections.

The legislation would create new protections for scientists to communicate freely with Congress and the public. It would also ensure that federal scientists could review press releases and other public materials that are based on their research before the materials are distributed.

Twenty-four federal agencies have already formulated scientific integrity policies under orders from the Obama Administration. Those agencies could use their existing policies to comply with the legislation, if it is enacted.

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Plant Conservation Legislation Introduced

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to support the botanical research capacity of the federal government. H.R. 1054 is sponsored by Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

The bill emphasizes the importance of protecting native plants and addresses botanical workforce issues. It would create a new program of botanical science research within the Department of the Interior to help increase federal botanic expertise and would allow Interior to hire additional botanical personnel. The bill would create a student loan repayment program for botanists. It would also create a preference for federal agencies to use locally-adapted native plant materials in their land management activities.

“One of our nation’s greatest assets is its biodiversity, which is why we must support the health of these ecosystems, as well as the dedicated scientists that have made our earth’s preservation their life’s work,” said Quigley in statement. “I am pleased that this bill will support their mission to sustain native and locally adapted plants so that America remains a vibrant, inspiring, and sustainable place to call home.”

“Introducing this bill with my colleague, Mike, is a positive step in ensuring the preservation, conservation, and restoration of the native species that characterize our communities and nation,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “We have a responsibility to help maintain a healthy and sound ecosystem that we can all be proud of. I’m glad that this bill will also encourage young people to enter careers in botanical science.”

The U.S. is projected to lose roughly half of its botanical experts in the next decade due to retirements. Some federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management, have already reported a deficiency in their botanical workforce. Meanwhile, fewer advanced degrees in botany are being awarded.

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Postdocs in Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine on the Decline

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics and the National Institutes of Health have released the results of the 2015 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering.

Overall, science and engineering graduate students increased by 2.7 percent from 2014 to 2015. However, the shares of biological science and clinical medicine postdocs declined 4 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, since 2010. An increasing proportion of postdocs are in the fields of neuroscience; engineering; social sciences; earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences; and agricultural science.

Several historically underrepresented groups have made marginal gains in terms of representation in the scientific workforce. Hispanic, black, and female postdocs are 0.5 percent to 2.4 percent more prevalent. Asian postdocs, however, declined by 1.9 percent.

Additional data and figures are available in the full report at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17309/nsf17309.pdf.

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AIBS to Help Scientists Develop Interdisciplinary Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and research managers.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, and even policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was developed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team.

Who should attend?

  • Research program managers
  • Departmental leaders
  • Scientists engaged in collaborative projects
  • Graduate students and post-docs looking to augment basic research skills
  • Scientists working at the interface of different fields
  • Groups interested in developing successful research proposals
  • Academic, government, and industry scientists

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together.

Participants will develop and hone the skills needed to:

  • Engage in collaborative scientific ventures;
  • Eliminate barriers to effective team science;
  • Execute the factors that make collaborations successful;
  • Build the right scientific team;
  • Perform with a variety of personalities and work approaches;
  • Create a team roadmap;
  • Enact the five keys to leadership;
  • Develop effective communication strategies and techniques
  • Facilitate scientific collaborations; and,
  • Apply practical solutions for team science concerns.

Learn more and register at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Join Us for the 2017 Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held on April 25-26, 2017 in Washington, DC. The first day of the program is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their travel expenses.

Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. The deadline to sign up is March 1, 2017.

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Short Takes

  • Democratic lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee have created an online tip line for whistleblowers. Federal employees can use the form to report fraud, accounting irregularities, discrimination, nepotism, falsification of records, and other allegation of misconduct. Learn more http://democrats-naturalresources.house.gov/contact/tipline.
  • Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was ordered to halve the number of employees attending an environmental conference in Alaska. The agency told the event organizers that the cancelation of 16 staff was to save costs. Several of the EPA staff who were not able to participate were scheduled to speak at the conference. Travel for employees from other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, State Department, Department of the Interior, Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Navy, was not impacted.
  • The National Science Foundation will now have one core program that will replace the phylogenetic systematics, biodiversity, and genealogy of life programs. Learn more at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/nsf17052/nsf17052.jsp.
  • The latest episode of BioScience Talks is now available. The episode focuses on climate-driven disturbances and how they impact coastal ecosystems. The show can be heard at http://bioscienceaibs.libsyn.com/episode-21-bright-spots-of-resilience-to-climate-disturbance.

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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.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the 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 policy.aibs.org to get started.

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