Author Archives: Rachel

My Public Comment on “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996”

Wind Whistle Rock in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Tim D. Peterson, from: http://wilderness.org/photo-gallery-utahs-bears-ears-region-natural-cultural-treasure Wind Whistle Rock in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo by Tim D. Peterson, from: http://wilderness.org/photo-gallery-utahs-bears-ears-region-natural-cultural-treasure

The Department of the Interior is currently conducting a review of 27 National Monuments. This review may lead to recommendations to alter their status, size, or eliminate them entirely. In fact, the review of Bears Ears National Monument has already led Secretary Zinke to recommend a reduction in its size.

The public comment period is open until July 10th. Comments can be submitted online by clicking “Comment Now.”

Here is my comment.

~~~~

National Monuments and other protected lands are part of our national heritage. The proud tradition of preserving these ecological and culturally important lands has made the United States a model nation for conservation around the world. From Giant Sequoia to Bears Ears, National Monuments not only preserve crucial ecological services, but also provide tangible economic and cultural benefits to neighboring communities. By setting aside National Monuments, the U.S. has used the precautionary principle appropriately to preserve our most precious and irreplaceable resources: biodiversity, healthy watersheds, gorgeous landscapes, and culturally significant treasures. National Monuments also serve as a boon for local economies, drawing tourists and generating revenues. By offering abundant opportunities for recreation, Americans and international tourists alike can refresh their minds and bodies in nature.

Modifying National Monuments to temper regulations, reduce their acreage, or eliminate them would jeopardize these benefits. Such changes could put these ecologically and culturally valuable lands at risk of development, disturbance or loss of wildlife, degradation of ecosystem services, and erosion of local tourism revenues. Boundary changes to protected lands in the United States and around the world have been studied as part of an effort to understand the legal changes that Downgrade (temper regulations), Downsize (reduce), and Degazette (eliminate) protected areas. Such legal changes are known as PADDD (Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement) events (Mascia and Pailler 2011). Research to date has shown that PADDD events are primarily driven by industrial scale-extraction and development (Mascia et al. 2014) and can lead to accelerated deforestation (Forrest et al. 2015).

Peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that reducing the size of protected areas can have tangible and long-lasting ecological consequences. A study analyzing the downsizing history of Yosemite National Park (Golden Kroner et al. 2016) demonstrates that forests which were removed from the National Park and transferred to private landowners (in 1905 and 1906) are now more highly fragmented by roads today than forests which remain protected – either within Yosemite National Park or as Wilderness Areas nearby. Forest fragmentation is a well-understood threat to global biodiversity, contributing, among other impacts, to population isolation, edge effects, and reduced diversity and abundance of sensitive species. Research on Yosemite National Park shows the legacy effect that the reduction of a protected area can have for ecological consequences. Notably, this work also demonstrates the benefits of federal-level protected areas and their potential to effectively preserve large tracts of land and watersheds for generations.

Given the importance of and benefits provided by National Monuments, coupled with the potential consequences of change, I urge the Department of Interior to preserve the 27 National Monuments that are under review and avoid tempering their regulations, reducing them in size, or eliminating them.

Citations:
• Golden Kroner, Rachel E., Roopa Krithivasan, and Michael B. Mascia. 2016. Effects of Protected Area Downsizing on Habitat Fragmentation in Yosemite National Park (USA), 1864 – 2014. Ecology and Society 21(3).
• Forrest, Jessica L., Michael B. Mascia, Sharon Pailler, et al. 2015. Tropical Deforestation and Carbon Emissions from Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD). Conservation Letters 8(3): 153–161.
• Mascia, Michael B., and Sharon Pailler. 2011. Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) and Its Conservation Implications. Conservation Letters 4(1): 9–20.
• Mascia, Michael B., Sharon Pailler, Roopa Krithivasan, et al. 2014. Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 1900–2010. Biological Conservation 169: 355–361.

 

Grad students: share your science!

SCIENCE, OK!? From https://www.ratbotcomics.com/comics/pgrc_2014/1/1.html

SCIENCE, OK!? From https://www.ratbotcomics.com/comics/pgrc_2014/1/1.html

In the current political climate, it can sometimes be disheartening to be a scientist or a scientist in training. The process of science and scientifically derived facts are too often devalued or denied, despite decades of painstaking, objective work produced by a community of scholars. Countering this “climate of denial” will take steady work by scientists and all those who value truth, reason, and societal progress. How can we get started to address this when the challenge seems so daunting? One productive approach: beginning early in one’s scientific career, scientists in training should get very comfortable with communicating their research! And not just in the traditional sense – as in peer-reviewed papers or conference presentations. We have to communicate our work In engaging ways for diverse audiences. Reaching outside of this echo chamber will be key to demonstrating the value of our science to society. This is especially true in fields like conservation, but also applies to nearly every area of research (e.g. health, engineering, political science, and more!).

Don't be like this guy. From https://www.nature.com/scitable/ebooks/english-communication-for-scientists-14053993/communicating-as-a-scientist-14238273

Don’t be like this guy. From https://www.nature.com/scitable/ebooks/english-communication-for-scientists-14053993/communicating-as-a-scientist-14238273

Here are a few  non-traditional outlets that graduate students can use to communicate their research and make their science matter. And remember to explain so that your grandmother can understand.

SciComm 101: What can you do yourself? 

Share science on social media

Starting a twitter account is a great place to start to share your science (and the work of others), access the latest research, and exchange ideas. In my experience, social media brings everyone – from undergraduates to emeritus professors – to the same level because the currency of exchange is clear ideas.

Why scholars use Twitter. From Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/online-collaboration-scientists-and-the-social-network-1.15711

Why scholars use Twitter. From Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/online-collaboration-scientists-and-the-social-network-1.15711

Translate your research for non-specialist audiences

The combination of paywalls,and researchers’ hyperspecialization means that the vast majority of scientific papers are only read by a few specialists in the field. To make sure that your science is accessed by literally anyone else, you have to translate it! Translation in this case means making your research – especially the findings, conclusions, and societal implications – very easy to understand. The challenge with translation is balancing accuracy with clarity. You don’t need all of that jargon and those acronyms to explain your work clearly. Translation of research findings can take many forms, including blog posts, videos, an outreach event with a local school or senior center, or even a children’s book. Your outlet will depend on your goals – are you interested in educating the public? Targeting decision makers? Starting a conversation across disciplinary lines? The translation approach can be tailored accordingly.

Yes, robots. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/244953667201990101/

Yes, robots. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/244953667201990101/

Next level SciComm: what can you do with the help of others?

Involve non-traditional stakeholders in your research

As you develop your research questions and methods, partner with practitioners or knowledge users like non-governmental or governmental organizations. This relationship can be mutually beneficial; the partner can help provide a research direction while your analyses can provide information that the partner can use directly. In addition, such a partner may also help to share research findings within their community of practice.

Write and disseminate a press release

When you have a publication in the final stages of review and revision, work with your university public relations office to develop a press release. Their expertise will help you to hone the language and also pitch it to their journalist contacts. They may also help you to prepare for an interview.

Talk to journalists

If journalists contact you for an interview – great! Respond as soon as possible and respect their deadlines. You may ask for the questions beforehand, which they may or may not have time to provide. Prepare by writing down a few talking points, considering these questions about your research: What is new? Why do the findings matter? What should be done about it? Note that these are very applied questions; journalists will almost never ask about your methods or p-values but instead will focus on what the results mean and why people should care. During the interview, answer questions clearly and accurately. If the journalist asks a misleading question or tries to put words in your mouth (“Would you say that….the planet is dying and we are doomed?”), refocus the conversation by starting with a fresh sentence relevant to your work (“Our research shows that the application of [whatever] can be very harmful to [your target species]. By reducing our use of [whatever], we can ensure that [your target species] remains abundant and continues to provide important [food sources/recreation opportunities/tourism value/genetic diversity/etc]”).

Sometimes your ideas can be twisted. State your ideas as accurately and clearly as possible. http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=1174

Sometimes your ideas can be twisted. State your ideas as accurately and clearly as possible. http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=1174

Make #SciComm the norm

In the traditional graduate school curriculum, students do not receive training in any of these outreach and communication approaches. My advice is to try these approaches one at a time and remember that practice makes perfect. Although this may take you out of your comfort zone, it is so critical to share your science and demonstrate its value to society.

Happy Earth Month!

#EveryDayisEarthDay

Save the data, save the world

datarescueDC brought together 200 librarians, scientists, coders, and concerned citizens to archive at risk EPA data and websites. https://datarefuge.github.io/datarescue-dc/

Data Rescue DC brought together 200 librarians, scientists, coders, and concerned citizens to archive at-risk EPA data and websites. https://datarefuge.github.io/datarescue-dc/

In the first four weeks of the Trump administration, headlines have been dominated by the most dramatic events: travel bans, border wall plans, coziness with Russia, claims of “fake news,” and record-breaking protests. While many Americans have been in a constant state of whiplash, a group of activists has focused proactively on addressing another possible threat: the security of federal data infrastructure. To address this, researchers at the UPenn program in the Environmental Humanities started Data Refuge – an initiative to archive at-risk federal data. This effort has quickly grown into a nation-wide network of librarians, scientists, programmers, and other concerned citizens. Many events have sprung up – including the Data Rescue DC event this President’s Day weekend at Georgetown University. Events provide participants with tools and collaborative space to archive government websites and effectively “bag and tag” data for repository into the Data Refuge archive. To date, events have focused on archiving the most critical websites and data at risk: environment and climate-relevant information from agencies like EPA and NOAA.

get all the data

Maybe we can’t get ALL the data, but we can start with data that we think is most at risk.

The Data Rescue DC event occurred within an urgent context; the appointment of a climate change denier to lead the EPA, the silencing of civil servants on certain topics, and attempts to restrict data collection on racial disparities in affordable housing, among other news, served as backdrop.  For me, participation in Data Rescue DC felt like the most important near-term contribution that I could make as a scientist. Federal data writ large is absolutely critical – not only for climate science research, but also for countless local applications. As part of a panel on Saturday, Denise Ross of New America reminded participants about the importance of accurate housing data following Hurricane Katrina to inform response efforts and literally save lives. Reviewing and backing up countless EPA websites reminded me that the EPA collects and maintains decades of data on toxic wastes, pesticides, radiation, and lots of other critical information. These data were collected over many years using American taxpayer dollars. Federal data also has the advantage of being consistently collected and without biases inherent in private-sector data; for instance, Ms. Ross shared that Google Street View could not be used to assess certain low income neighborhoods in New Orleans as the camera-equipped cars had failed to include them.

So how does one save the data to save the world?  At the event, participants divided into groups: seeders and sorters, researchers and harvesters, checkers and baggers, describers, and storytellers. Each group contributed to a piece of the data archiving process. I seeded and sorted for the day, clicking through and archiving EPA websites methodically and marking appropriate pages as uncrawlable (like databases or interactive maps). Researchers and harvesters dug deeper into the sites marked as uncrawlable and worked to capture these data. Checkers and baggers provided layers of quality control for the harvested data while describers wrote comprehensive metadata. Storytellers visited each group to capture participants’ stories and experiences – through tweets, videos, blogs, and other media. Organizers were attuned to the sensitive nature of the event; participants who wished to remain anonymous wore white name tags. Signs posted around the room reminded us not to share pictures of people on social media without permission.

In addition to technical data sets, I also discovered some fun things on the EPA website.

At Data Rescue DC, more than 200 participants sorted and seeded 4776 URLs, harvested 20 GB of data, bagged 15 datasets, and described 40 datasets. This contributed about 40% of the datasets that are currently in the Data Refuge archive! Data Rescue DC and similar efforts begin to address the issue of at-risk federal data infrastructure by archiving data. But of course, this is not enough. It may be impossible to archive all of the data that are at risk. And more challenging: there is no guarantee that these data will continue to be collected in the future. Quiet activism like data archiving in concert with continued vocal political pressure to support data collection efforts (e.g. maintain or increase agency funding) will be instrumental. As suggested by Bethany Wiggin of UPenn (one of Data Refuge’s founders), data users can play a role from the bottom up by talking about data that we use and amplifying its importance. This can help “humanize” these data and emphasize their value to society.

I hope that public access to federal data remains open. In the meantime, activists will continue archiving – just in case.

Interested in getting involved to rescue data? Learn more on the UPenn Program in the Environmental Humanities page here

New study: Effects of protected area downsizing on habitat fragmentation in Yosemite National Park

yosemite image

The centennial of the National Park Service’s provides an opportunity to reflect on the history of parks and prepare for the next 100 years.                                                                                                                                                               Image: http://www.wallpaperup.com/153388/Yosemite_National_Park_waterfall_forest_mountains.html

My colleagues and I just published a new study in Ecology and Society highlighting 150 years of history of Yosemite National Park. We documented seven legal changes that altered the boundaries of the park – both reductions and additions. We found that Yosemite lost 30% of its original area from when it was established in 1890. We also found that some lands which were removed from the park were subsequently re-protected as wilderness due to the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Forests which were downsized from Yosemite and remain unprotected are more highly fragmented by roads today. Higher road density indicates that the ecosystems are more degraded. Roads may also inhibit migration as species attempt to adapt to climate change.

Coverage of this story can be found on Human Nature, Mongabay, and VICE.  

This piece is part of a broader research effort on protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) which focuses on legal changes to protected areas around the world.  Learn more at PADDDtracker.org and follow @PADDDtracker on twitter.

Republican vs. Democratic Platforms on the Environment

Here is a point by point comparison of the Republican and Democratic parties’ platforms on environmental issues for 2016.* Read the rest of the platforms here: Republican Democratic

Republicans

 

Democrats

Cornerstone of platform: “we remain committed to expanding trade opportunities and opening new markets for agriculture.”

“…ranching on public lands must be fostered, developed, and encouraged.”

Agriculture

“we believe that in order to be effective in keeping our air and water clean and combating climate change, we must enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship.”
“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.”

Climate change

Cornerstone of platform: “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

“The best science tells us that without ambitious, immediate action across our economy to cut carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, all of these impacts will be far worse in the future.”

“We oppose any carbon tax.”

Carbon tax

“Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and help meet our climate goals.”
“We will do away with it altogether.”

Clean Power Plan

“Democrats are committed to defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan, fuel 28 economy standards for automobiles and heavy-duty vehicles, building codes and appliance standards.”
No explicit mention

Corporate Accountability

“All corporations owe it to their shareholders to fully analyze and disclose the risks they face, including climate risk. Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.”
“The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution. Its unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

No explicit mention
“We demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in accordance with the 1994 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.”

United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

No explicit mention
“We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which represent only the personal commitments of their signatories; no such agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate.”

Paris agreement

“Democrats share a deep commitment to … meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to “well below” two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
“We propose to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states and to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission, similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with structural safeguards against politicized science.”

The EPA

No explicit mention
all-of-the-above energy strategy”

“We support the enactment of policies to increase domestic energy production, including production on public lands, to counter market manipulation by OPEC and other nationally owned oil companies.”

Energy

“We believe America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century. We will take bold steps to slash carbon pollution and protect clean air at home, lead the fight against climate change around the world, ensure no Americans are left out or left behind as we accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy”
“We encourage the cost-effective development of renewable energy sources — wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, geothermal, and tidal energy — by private capital.”

Renewable Energy

“We will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar, and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.”
“we will end the Administration’s disregard of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste”

“We support lifting restrictions to allow responsible development of nuclear energy, including research into alternative processes like thorium nuclear energy”

Nuclear energy

No explicit mention
“We respect the states’ proven ability to regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing, methane emissions, and horizontal drilling..”

Fracking

“Democrats are committed to closing the Halliburton loophole that stripped the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing, and ensuring tough safeguards are in place, including Safe Drinking Water Act provisions, to protect local water supplies. We believe hydraulic fracturing should not take place where states and local communities oppose it.”
“We support expediting the permitting process for mineral production on public lands.”

Mining

“We will also oppose threats to the public health of these communities from harmful and dangerous extraction practices, like mountaintop removal mining operations.”
“coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource”

Coal

No explicit mention
“We intend to finish that pipeline and others as part of our commitment to North American energy security.”

Keystone XL

“We support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”
No explicit mention

Pebble Mine

“we support efforts by the EPA under the Clean Water Act to establish proactively science-based restrictions on discharges of dredged or fill material associated with a potential Pebble mine and urge that such restrictions must apply to potential mines at other metallic sulfide deposits in those drainages.”
“support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production”

Arctic and Atlantic offshore drilling

“We oppose drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast”
“That is why we support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production, even if these resources will not be immediately developed. ”

“We support the enactment of policies to increase domestic energy production, including production on public lands”

Fossil fuel production on public lands

“We will phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands, 30 starting with the most polluting sources, while making our public lands and waters engines of the clean energy economy and creating jobs across the country. Democrats will work to expand the amount of renewable energy production on federal lands and waters, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.”

Public Lands

“we need policies and investments that will keep America’s public lands public
“We believe in promoting active, sustainable management of our forests and that states can best manage our forests to improve forest health and keep communities safe.”

Forest Service Lands

No explicit mention
“We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.”

Antiquities Act

No explicit mention
“…the ESA has stunted economic development, halted the construction of projects, burdened landowners, and has been used to pursue policy goals inconsistent with the ESA — all with little to no success in the actual recovery of species. For example, we oppose the listing of the lesser prairie chicken and the potential listing of the sage grouse.”

Endangered Species Act

“Democrats oppose efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act to protect threatened and endangered species.”
“We will enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act, not it’s distortion by EPA regulations.”

Clean Water Act

No explicit mention
“We will…modernize the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act so it can no longer invite frivolous lawsuits, thwart sorely needed projects, kill jobs, and strangle growth.”

NEPA

No explicit mention
“We will likewise forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, something never envisioned when Congress passed the Clean Air Act. We will restore to Congress the authority to set the National Ambient Air Quality Standards…”

Clean Air Act

No explicit mention
No explicit mention

Lead poisoning

“Democrats believe we must make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning, which disproportionately impacts low-income children and children of color and can lead to lifelong health and educational challenges.”
No explicit mention

Environmental Justice

“…as we saw in Flint, Michigan, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately home to environmental justice “hot spots,” where air pollution, water pollution, and toxic hazards like lead increase health and economic hardship. The impacts of climate change will also disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities, tribal nations, and Alaska 29 Native villages—all of which suffer the worst losses during extreme weather and have the fewest resources to prepare. Simply put, this is environmental racism.”

*This post does not constitute an endorsement of either party.

Research frontiers: commonalities between Land Cover Change and Conservation Science Research

After attending part of this year’s NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change (LCLUC) meeting, I was struck by the synergies between the needs of that particular community and that of conservation scientists. Many of the same “big questions” and data needs that conservation researchers are currently grappling with emerged clearly from the dialogue. Here is a short synthesis of common themes between the current work of the LCLUC program and the work of conservation researchers and practitioners.

  1.  Both conservation and LCLUC communities are exploring big questions: how effective are conservation interventions? In what contexts? What works, where, and why? To address this, researchers are examining a diverse suite of interventions, including eco-certifications (Forest Stewardship Council forests) and protected areas. Little rigorous evidence to answer these questions exist. The call to mainstream impact evaluation has emerged from conservation-focused economists and has been gaining traction among researchers from many disciplines including ecology, anthropology, and geography.
  2. There is a need to understand mechanisms (through what causal pathway does a treatment affect the outcome) and feedbacks (what influence does the state of the outcome have on selection of the treatment?) The world is a lot more complicated than a simple line from input to output. For instance, how would you parameterize this diagram?
Source: http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/9/6/2134/htm

Theoretical linkages between the drivers and consequences of climate change. Source: http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/9/6/2134/htm

Even thinking through the possible “boxes and arrows” to include can help conceptualize the problem and create valuable theory.

3. The conference revealed a clear embrace of a more holistic worldview, including interdisciplinarity and the integration of both local and global drivers that affect land use change (and also biodiversity and ecosystem services).

4. Both communities have expressed the need for a better understanding of land cover and biodiversity data over time. Many land cover maps are static and categorical, with the exception of some newer datasets showing annual forest cover change. Without repeated observations of land cover and other conservation-relevant landscape features, there will be no way to detect to what extent landscapes are changing and measure the effect of human actions (e.g. conservation and development policies) on land cover or ecosystem services.

Global Forest Watch hosts data on annual forest loss and gain. http://www.globalforestwatch.org/

Global Forest Watch hosts data on annual forest loss and gain. http://www.globalforestwatch.org/

6. Science should be made as relevant as possible for decision-makers. Scientists are not funded to advocate directly, but data should be ready to solve complex problems about food security, poverty, and biodiversity loss. This priority is reflected by research groups, including SESYNC , which encourages “actionable” science catered to solving real problems.

7. There is a clear orientation of the research community toward global goals and priorities including the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. It is likely that these global agreements will drive priorities in the next 10 or 20 years to come.

I expect that many of these data needs, questions, and priorities are reflected across disciplines in the natural and social sciences. Have you noticed similar trends in your discipline? Comment below!

On “island hopping” and emphasizing the unknown in science communication

Photo: BOSTON ATLANTIC PHOTOGRAPHY

This year’s final plenary at the AAAS Meeting in DC featured Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad. Abumrad served up sage advice and challenged the status quo model of science communication. 

How does the communication of science to the mainstream public work today? First, scientists do their science and then (eventually) publish a paper featuring new results in a scientific journal. If the paper is published in a top-tier journal and/or has broad implications for the public, it may receive some press coverage and reach the eyes of non-scientists. The results will have been translated by the journalist writing the piece in an attempt to make the jargon more accessible. As Abumrad nicely stated, journalists writing about science have to “hop” between “islands” or various linguistic spheres. Each scientific field and subfield has its own island featuring unique terminology. The ability to “island hop,” Abumrad argues, should not be restricted to journalists. Each scientist should be to talk “across the table” and explain his or her research to any non-expert. Metaphors, anthropomorphism, and relatable terminology are the most helpful tools here. For instance, Abumrad featured research describing different genes which regulate processes in the cell. Instead of using the technical acronyms for the genes, Abumrad gave them whimsical names (the “grim reaper” and “fountain of youth” genes) based on their functions. He also paired these names with memorable gene “voices” to anthropomorphize them and make them relatable for the audience. Any scientist can use this example and work to “island hop” – translating the results of their own research in a creative way.

After describing “island hopping,” Abumrad offered a provocative suggestion to scientists: instead of emphasizing results and “what we know,” focus on the unknown. This way, the public will become more interested in the pursuit of scientific knowledge and science as a process of discovery. This emphasis may also drive the public to support funding for science and the consideration of science in policy. However, there are several challenges inherent in this suggestion. First of all, it is the antithesis of the status quo. Scientists publish a paper presenting new results and focus on “what is known” now as a result of the research. This process occurs within a context of the scientific culture; competition for publications in top journals, large federal grants, and other milestones incentivize scientists to attempt to stand out from the crowd. How to stand out? By presenting the newest and most cutting edge results in academic journals which speak primarily to scientific peers. News coverage and outreach to the public is often seen as secondary (read: less important) communication. The system incentives a results-driven approach. Abumrad’s suggestion that scientists emphasize more of the questions and unknowns directly challenges this model.

Although the suggestion to emphasize unknowns may draw in new and curious audiences, there are several possible drawbacks. First, a shift in this direction may provide an unfortunate inlay for science deniers and skeptics to intervene in the discourse. We already see this today: as climate scientists rightfully communicate that models contain elements of uncertainty (which more precisely means that there are large confidence intervals in the results rather than blatant unknowns), deniers snatch this up and argue that the models and science are useless. The over-emphasis of questions and gaps in science (on climate change, evolution, or any controversial topic) allows a clear opportunity for deniers to reach a broader audience and incite doubt. In addition, a focus on unknowns may leave the public feeling unsatisfied by the lack of clear and packaged results, ultimately eroding the public’s excitement for science. Finally, an effort to emphasize questions and unknowns would be especially challenging for younger and less established scientists. Thriving in the competitive scientific environment requires that young scientists abide by the established conventions as they compete in the job market.

Given the challenges inherent in altering the status quo model of science communication, I would suggest that a healthy balance between the presentation of scientific results and the questions that these results generate offers the best way forward. It is up to both journalists and scientists to ask the right questions and provide a fair proportion of both novel results and exciting questions. This way, science may be appreciated for what it is –  a process of discovery – rather than simply a large body of facts.

Permanently Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

UPDATE: On February 4, 2016, President Obama proposed a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his 2017 budget request. If approved by Congress, the fund would receive $900 million annually to fund recreation and conservation of public lands. The LWCF was previously re-authorized for the next three years as part of Congress’ year end budget bill, which passed in December of 2015. Source: The Hill.

This technical piece provides background and a policy recommendation to reauthorize the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund, a mechanism to fund public land acquisition and recreation in the United States. The Act to authorize the fund expired in September 2015. 

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 Executive Summary

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1964 authorized the appropriation of up to $900 million annually for public land acquisition and support of state recreation programs. Funding was derived from offshore oil and gas royalties and had to be approved annually by Congress. In September 30, 2015, the Act expired. In the 50 years since its passage, the Fund has raised $16.8 billion and provided economic and ecological benefits to society. The returns on investment of the Fund has been at least 4 to 1. Several bills to reinstate the LWCF have been proposed recently. The PARC (Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation) Act would reinstate the Fund but reduce spending on federal land acquisition and increase spending for state recreation and offshore oil exploration. Bills to permanently reauthorize the LWCF have also been proposed in the House (H.R. 1814) and Senate (S. 338). Based on the analysis of these policy alternatives, I recommend that Congress permanently authorize the LWCF by passing H.R. 1814/S. 338. This will allow society to realize the maximum benefits and avoid the risk of a future funding gap.

Source: http://wilderness.org/mapping-land-and-water-conservation-fund-lwcf

Source: http://wilderness.org/mapping-land-and-water-conservation-fund-lwcf

Background of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

To address the market failure of the undersupply of public lands (generally a public good), the Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) Act was passed in 1964[i]. This Act established a funding mechanism which allocated a portion of revenues from oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf and directed that funding to public land acquisition and recreational activities. [ii] The law allowed the Fund to raise up to $900 million annually. The level of funding was determined and approved by Congress each year. Historically, Congress had approved only portion of the LWCF; the fund could have raised $36.2 billion to date, but only $16.8 billion was allocated to the Fund itself.[iii] The remainder was diverted to other appropriations in the general federal budget. The LWCF appropriated funding toward three purposes: land acquisition by the four federal land management agencies (the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service), matching grants for states to support recreational activities, and other federal programs.[iv] On September 30, 2015, the LWCF expired. Several bills to reinstate the LWCF with modifications or with a permanent funding mechanism have been proposed in Congress in 2015.

 Benefits and Costs of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, 1965 – 2015

The Land and Water Conservation Fund allocated over 41,000 individual funds[v] which have contributed to the protection of 4.5 million acres of federal[vi] and 2.6 million acres of state and local lands[vii]. These public lands are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and US territories in 98% of counties in the United States.[viii] In terms of political feasibility, the LWCF is supported by a coalition of state, local, and national conservation and recreation organizations[ix] and received bi-partisan support in Congress from 1965 to 2015.

The LWCF is a primary source of funding for the four federal land agencies which provide recreational opportunities to the American public. Recreation contributes to the economy directly and indirectly; park-goers spend money at local tourism outlets (hotels, restaurants) and purchase recreational equipment to support their activities. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that recreational activities related to wildlife hunting on public lands contributed $3.7 billion to the economy in 2011 alone.[x] The Federal Interagency Council on Recreation found that recreational activities on public lands (national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and others) supported 880,000 jobs in 2012 alone[xi].

Funding for the LWCF is generated from the royalties (e.g. revenues) from offshore oil and gas drilling activities. Royalties that must be paid from offshore drilling activities in the U.S. range from 12.5 to 18.75% and are determined by a law separate from the LWCF.[xii] A portion of these royalties (up to $900 million annually) has gone to the LWCF while a majority of the remainder goes to the US Treasury. The other funds from oil royalties support the Historic Preservation Fund, the states where the oil operation was leased, and other allocations.[xiii] Royalties are charged whether or not the LWCF exists. Hence, a change in the law to reinstate or cancel the LWCF does not affect oil company’s profit margins nor the price of oil. Without the LWCF, the revenues that would normally cover the fund are used within the general federal budget.

Most funding from oil and gas drilling on public lands goes to the US Treasury. Source:  https://useiti.doi.gov/

Most funding from oil and gas drilling on public lands goes to the US Treasury. Source: https://useiti.doi.gov/

A 2010 report analyzed the return on investment of the LWCF and found that for every dollar spent through the fund, there was a $4 return in economic value.[xiv] This value was estimated based on a suite of ecosystem services provided by lands acquired through the LWCF including water quality protection, habitat provision, carbon sequestration, erosion control, aesthetics, and others. This does not include direct economic values for recreation, tourism, historical resources, and those other benefits which cannot be valued in dollar terms including existence and bequest value. Hence, the return on investment in the LWCF is likely greater than four to one.

Policy Alternative 1: Reinstate the LWCF with modifications with the PARC Act

The PARC (Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation) Act was introduced in the House in October 2015. This Act aims to reauthorize the LWCF at the same level ($900 million annually) for the next seven years but reforms the allocation by reducing funding for federal land acquisition (not more than 3.5% as compared to the previous 60%), and increasing funding for state recreation projects (not less than 45% as compared to the previous 25%).[xv] The PARC act also allocates funding toward promoting offshore energy exploration, innovation and education (not less than 20%) as well as other programs.[xvi] The breakdown of these allocations suggests that the PARC Act would eventually indirectly increase offshore drilling, but would not increase the amount of royalties diverted to the LWCF itself. This effects the efficiency of the Fund in society; by promoting additional drilling and carbon emissions, the externality of carbon pollution will be less internalized with the PARC Act than with the original LWCF.

The PARC Act was introduced by Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah). Photo: http://www.standard.net/Government/2015/05/15/House-defies-Obama-veto-threat-passes-defense-policy-bill

The PARC Act was introduced by Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah). Photo: http://www.standard.net/Government/2015/05/15/House-defies-Obama-veto-threat-passes-defense-policy-bill

The political feasibility of the PARC Act is currently low. Although it has been promoted by the chair of the House Committee of Natural Resources, it is opposed in the house Democrats and many Republicans[xvii] as well as by the White House.[xviii] In addition, it is opposed by prominent advocacy groups. John Gardner from the National Parks Conservation Association stated that “the PARC Act does not remotely constitute a reauthorization of LWCF, as it seeks to systematically dismantle the program and, for purposes of federal land acquisition, render it effectively worthless.”[xix]

Policy Alternative 2: Reinstate the LWCF with permanent funding

Efforts to reinstate the LWCF with permanent funding have been introduced in Congress: H.R. 1814 in the House (which currently has 196 cosponsors) and S. 338 in the Senate (which currently has 18 co-sponsors). These bills would reinstate the LWCF and allow for permanent funding; this would avoid the need for Congress to annually reauthorize and approve the fund. The only allocation specification that the bill makes is that “not less than 1.5% …be used for projects that secure recreational public access to Federal public land.”[xx] The remainder of the appropriations would remain as in the original LWCF.

HR 1814  was introduced by Raul Grijalva (D - Arizona). Photo: govtrack.us

HR 1814 was introduced by Raul Grijalva (D – Arizona). Photo: govtrack.us

Benefits of these bills are expected to be in line with the historical benefits as provided by the LWCF – at least a 4 to 1 return on investment. The benefits provided by the LWCF from 1965 to 2015 is a testament to the likely success of a permanent reauthorization and dedicated funding of the program. If passed, permanent reauthorization would avoid future gaps in the flow of funds from LWCF as there has been since September 2015. In addition, the political feasibility is high with bipartisan support in Congress and the support of a large coalition of organizations.[xxi]  It is unclear in the language of the bill whether there would be guaranteed full funding ($900 million) annually. If it is not guaranteed, then an inconsistent funding stream of a future LWCF constitutes a limitation of its effectiveness.

Conclusion

To correct the market failure of the undersupply of public lands and to provide net benefits to society, the LWCF should be reinstated with permanent funding (H.R. 1814/S. 338). These bills avoid the limitations of the PARC Act which would contribute to the externality of carbon pollution. Benefits of permanent reauthorization of the LWCF outweigh the costs to society by at least 4 to 1. Passage of S. 338 and H.R. 1814 is possible given the bi-partisan support from both chambers of Congress and from the Executive Branch. Language in the bill should be clarified as to whether the fund will be guaranteed to be financed fully ($900 million annually). Permanent authorization would avoid a gap in the funding stream. A complete, consistent, and permanent funding of the LWCF would deliver maximized net social benefits to the American public.

References:

[i] Act of September 3, 1964; P.L. 88-578, 78 Stat. 897. 16 U.S.C. §§460l-4, et seq

[ii] Hardy Vincent, Carol. 2014. Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding History, and Issues. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33531.pdf (accessed 12/1/2015).

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Walls, Margaret. 2009. Federal Funding for Conservation and Recreation: The Land and Water Conservation Fund. Resources for the Future. Retrieved from http://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-BCK-ORRG_LWCF.pdf (accessed 11/27/2015).

[vi] Zinn, Jeffrey. 2005. Land and Water Conservation Fund: Current Status and Issues. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. Retrieved from http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/RS21503.pdf (accessed 12/2/2015).

[vii] Walls, Margaret. 2009. Federal Funding for Conservation and Recreation: The Land and Water Conservation Fund. Resources for the Future. Retrieved from http://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-BCK-ORRG_LWCF.pdf (accessed 11/27/2015).

[viii] National Recreation and Park Association. 2008. Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance Program. Retrieved from www.nrpa.org (accessed 12/1/2015).

[ix] Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. Retrieved from http://lwcfcoalition.org/about-us.html (accessed 11/30/2015).

[x] Based on calculation from report: 4.9 million people hunting on public lands in 2011 multiplied by trip expenditures per hunter of $762. Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation

[xi] Federal Interagency Council on Recreation. 2014. Fact Sheet on Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Income.

[xii] Government Accountability Office. 2010. Federal Oil and Gas Leases: Opportunities Exist to Capture Vented and Flared Natural Gas, Which Would Increase Royalty Payments and Reduce Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1134.pdf (accessed 12/2/2015).

[xiii] Department of the Interior. Natural Resource Revenues from U.S. Federal Lands. Retrieved from  https://useiti.doi.gov/ (accessed 12/1/2015).

[xiv] Trust for Public Land. 2010. The Return on Investment from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Retrieved from https://www.tpl.org/return-investment-land-and-water-conservation-fund (accessed 11/29/2015).

[xv] House Committee on Natural Resources. 2015. The Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation Act (PARC). Retrieved from http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/nr_parc.act_11.6.2015.pdf (accessed 12/1/2015).

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Henry, Devin. 2015. GOP infightiS.ng breaks out over conservation bill. The Hill. Retrieved from: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/259728-gop-in-fighting-breaks-out-over-conservation-bill (accessed 11/29/2015).

[xviii] Cama, Timothy. 2015. Obama official objects to GOP conservation bill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/260588-obama-official-objects-to-gop-conservation-bill (accessed 11/22/2015).

[xix] Retrieved from https://www.npca.org/articles/892-position-on-the-parc-act.

[xx] S. 338 – A bill to permanent reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/338 (accessed 12/1/15).

[xxi] Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. Current Legislation. Retrieved from  http://lwcfcoalition.org/legislation.html (accessed 12/1/15).

Managing Expectations for the Paris Climate Conference and Beyond

This article was originally posted here on New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

COP

The focus of the global community on the outcomes of the Paris Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December is unprecedented. The world awaits, anticipating the details of an international and legally-binding agreement to address climate change. [Video Here]

The prospect of a successful outcome is certainly a source of optimism and excitement. “[T]he eyes of the world will be on Paris…all indications seem to point toward success,” said Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCC, in a video made specifically for the ongoing “Managing Our Planet” series. The road to Paris has been enabled by many other negotiations – from Kyoto to Copenhagen to Durban. These talks have set the precedent for a deal to come soon. However, despite this optimism and vision of an effective and comprehensive climate strategy, it is important to look beyond Paris.

To set the Paris deal in motion, the global community must ensure effective implementation, deliver adequate financing, and encourage transparency and accountability. Without these critical components, the negotiations will not stop temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. After the post-Paris celebrations calm down, the global community must keep up the momentum or risk another failed attempt at addressing climate change.

The Structure of the Negotiations 

The Paris negotiations will culminate in the Paris Alliance – a visionary and comprehensive plan to address global climate change. The Paris Alliance includes four pillars: a legally-binding international deal; a national plan from each country; financing of at least $100 billion annually; and formal recognition of non-state actions focused on alleviating climate change. This is an all-hands-on-deck, all-of-the-above approach; it will be implemented by all countries worldwide and utilize a variety of tools. Both mitigation and adaptation will be addressed, harnessing interventions ranging from higher fuel efficiency standards to renewable energy development to forest conservation.

Furthermore, the Paris negotiations are structured in a unique way. Historically, the UNFCCC has relied upon the premise of differentiation – developed and developing countries were expected to contribute to solutions in different ways. For instance, in the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries (polluters of the past) were responsible for meeting legally binding emissions targets, while developing countries were not. Although this is rooted in the polluter-pays principle, developed countries, including the United States, were not keen on it.

At the Wilson Center on October 14, Lisa Friedman, deputy editor of ClimateWire, emphasized the role of differentiation in the climate agreements, noting that “this fight has been going on for a long time…and the U.S. rejected [Kyoto] because of that.”

The deal in Paris, however, is quite different. Each nation must submit an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) document detailing what commitments it will make. This voluntary, bottom-up approach ensures that each nation feels a sense of ownership. The national plans will hopefully eventually “add up” to carbon emissions reductions that prevent a rise in global temperatures of more than two degrees Celsius.

Expectations vs. Reality

As of today, at least 126 nations have submitted INDCs. The submission of so many plans months before the conference is a positive sign that negotiators will avoid last-minute uncertainty. Carbon accounting and transparency, along with innovative technological solutions, are integrated into many plans. However, as of now, the INDCs do not add up to match the two degrees Celsius target to which the global community aspires.

Commitments so far do not add up to match the 2° C target

Many hard commitments are not yet in place. Exact targets for mitigation and commitments for financing, for example, are lacking. The plans to compensate those most affected by climate change are not yet agreed upon. Furthermore, the strategies to follow up on and upgrade these commitments are missing.

The details of the mitigation targets, financing, compensation for loss and damage, and other components will ultimately be determined by politics. The final outcome is unpredictable at this point, said Yamide Dagnet, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute’s Collective Climate Action Objective. She emphasized that the negotiations are likely to involve “asks and gives” between nations negotiating until “the final hour.”

Looking Beyond

When the dust settles this fall, the Paris COP is likely to produce the first binding, comprehensive international agreement to address climate change. After the celebrations die down, however, it is critical that the global community push for effective implementation of the Paris Alliance.

Nations must strive to reach their goals in a timely manner, deploying their resources and reporting on their progress to ensure transparency and accountability. Further, governments will need to begin investigating ways to avoid unintended consequences of their strategies and consider tradeoffs between goals (e.g., between renewable energy development and habitat connectivity in a biodiverse region).

Here in the United States, the 2016 presidential election is likely to play a key role in successful implementation of the deal. If the United States is not on board, Paris threatens to be another Kyoto.

If all goes well, and every nation successfully implements their INDCs, then the success of Paris will still have only just begun. Implementation will not be simple nor will benefits be immediate. Momentum may fade. “It’s very important that we don’t backtrack,” said Dagnet. “We need to keep the momentum way after Paris.” In order for the deal to truly be successful, there must be enough institutional and political will to carry this deal forward for decades into the future.

Sources: World Resources Institute.

Photo Credit: Bonn session of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, October 2014, courtesy of the UNFCCC.