Leadership Change at U.S. Forest Service

Tom Tidwell retired as Chief of the United States Forest Service (USFS) after serving in the role for eight years. Tidwell worked in the agency for more than 40 years.

One of Tidwell’s initiatives was to focus on restoring ecological resiliency of national forests, including from the impacts of climate change.

Wildfire suppression—especially funding—remains a challenging issue for the Forest Service. Tidwell worked with lawmakers to try to create an authorization for funding wildfires like other natural disasters, but ultimately was unsuccessful. The current funding system has caused the agency to “borrow” from within other programs within the agency to pay for wildfire suppression. Such efforts encompass more than half of the agency’s budget each year.

“From the start, we have relied on Chief Tidwell’s experience and counsel, drawing on his years of experience both in the field and in Washington,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “The Forest Service will miss the benefit of his knowledge but we wish him well on his retirement after more than 40 years of service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Three days after Tidwell’s retirement announcement, Secretary Perdue announced that Tony Tooke will serve as the new Chief of the Forest Service. Tooke has spent his entire career at the agency and currently serves as Regional Forester for the Southern Region. He was previously Associate Deputy Chief for the National Forest Service, where he oversaw ecosystem management, among other issues.

Tooke was sworn into office on 1 September 2017. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

“I am deeply humbled to have been asked to serve as Chief of the U. S. Forest Service,” said Tooke. “I have tremendous respect for our history and those who have served before me - their leadership has inspired my own. I admire our on-the-ground work and our dedicated workforce, at every level of the agency that make it possible. Together with our many partners, volunteers, and local and state leaders, we have much to accomplish to fulfill our continuing conservation mission and serve people and communities everywhere.”

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Climate Advisory Panel Terminated

The Sustained National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee has been disbanded by the Trump Administration. The committee’s charter expired on 20 August and was not renewed. The 15 member panel was tasked with long-term planning for climate adaptation.

The administration claims that the panel’s dissolution will not affect the completion of the fourth National Climate Assessment. It could, however, affect the ability of state and local governments to access information pertaining to climate mitigation and adaption, according to Dr. Richard Moss, outgoing chair of the committee. According to Moss, the committee translated information from the climate assessment report and made it “more useful” to end users.

“We were trying to encourage greater dialogue between the scientific community and stakeholders so they could better understand and interpret the science,” said Dr. Jerry Melillo, who led the last three climate assessments. “Anything that diminishes our ability to convey that information to the public makes the American people the losers in this kind of situation… This may be part of a bigger picture and larger strategy with which this particular administration de-emphasizes the importance of science in making decisions, especially with climate change.”

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Park Service Rescinds Conservation Order

The acting director of the National Park Service (NPS) ended an Obama-era order regarding management of national parks.

Director’s Order No. 100 was signed on 20 December 2016 by former NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. It addressed climate change and other issues, including sexual harassment and workforce diversity. The order also called for park managers to “err on the side of caution” when making decisions that could threaten park resources—a clause that drew criticism from some members of Congress.

Under the order, NPS was to make decisions based on “science, law and long-term public interest.” It also said that positions of leadership within NPS should be filled by people with “scientific literacy appropriate to their positions.”

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AIBS Talks Evolution Education on Science Friday

On 1 September 2017, AIBS Public Policy Manager Julie Palakovich Carr was a guest on NPR’s Science Friday. The segment focused on a new Florida law that allows any resident—regardless of whether or not they have children enrolled in local schools—to file a challenge to instructional materials.

Palakovich Carr wrote about the Florida law and other attacks on evolution education in the August 2017 issue of BioScience. The article can be accessed for free here.

Listen to the Science Friday segment here.

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State Department Eliminates Climate Envoy Position

The top climate envoy position at the U.S. State Department will be eliminated. Secretary Rex Tillerson proposed to do away with the position as part of a broader reorganization of 70 special envoy positions. Positions on the Arctic, Syria, and cybersecurity are also impacted.

“I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose,” Tillerson wrote in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The position was recently vacated by Daniel Kamman, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Kamman resigned in protest over President Trump’s positions on climate change and race.

The science advisor for the department also resigned this summer.

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Controversy Over USDA Science Nominee

Members of Congress are calling for the nomination of Sam Clovis to be Department of Agriculture Undersecretary of Research, Education, and Economics to be withdrawn. Reports have recently come to light of Clovis’ incendiary remarks when he hosted a conservative talk radio show.

News outlets have found clips of Clovis promoting the birther movement about President Obama and calling then-Attorney General Eric Holder a “racist black.”

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) said in a joint statement, “President Trump should withdraw the Clovis nomination immediately - not only because he is a proud ‘skeptic’ of climate change and wildly unqualified for the position of USDA Chief Scientist - but also as a gesture to the American people that this administration is serious about rooting out the most hateful voices in our society.”

If the nomination is not withdrawn, the Senators will “vehemently” oppose the nomination.

The scientific community has expressed concern that Clovis does not meet the qualifications to hold the position. The 2008 farm bill requires that the President make the appointment “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”

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Register for the AIBS Workshop on Interdisciplinary Science

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, 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 individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

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, 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 designed 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. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary 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, with scientific case studies and examples.

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. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

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

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Expand Your Broader Impact Skills: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’ highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on 9-10 October 2017.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What decision-makers want to hear from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to leverage social media
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC. A course outline is available here.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $55 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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Deadline Approaching: Enter the 2017 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for your chance to win $250 and to have your photo appear on the cover of the journal BioScience.

The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, at a natural history collection, at a field station, on a computer, in a classroom, or anywhere else research is done.

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 the journal, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The winning photo from the 2016 contest was featured on the cover of the April 2017 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 1 October 2017.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • President Trump has nominated Timothy Gallaudet as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, which is the second highest-ranking position within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Gallaudet served for 32 years in the Navy and was most recently commander of the Meteorology and Oceanography Command.
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists has a new hotline for federal employees and contractors to confidentially report any incidents that may impact the role of science in federal decision-making. The Science Protection Project is looking for cases where scientific reports were pressured to be watered down, violations of federal scientific integrity policies, reduced or suspended data collection, and other examples of inappropriate conduct relating to science within a federal agency. Learn more at http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/ucs-science-protection-project.
  • The National Science Foundation has issued a dear colleague letter on STEM education in the life sciences. The agency is inviting proposals to inform, create, implement, and evaluate innovative models of intervention in life science and bioscience education. Read the letter at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/nsf17127/nsf17127.jsp.

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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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