I would like to bring you up to date on the current activities and plans of the AERC. Please note the last paragraph that specifies a deadline for responses on an important topic.
As you may be aware, in 1999 the AERC re-initiated annual meetings every November in Washington, DC. Each meeting includes a symposium on a topic of broad interest to both AERC members and representatives of federal science agencies and other organizations in the Washington area. We have had a variety of excellent invited speakers and subsequent lively discussions of the theme topics at our meetings. Since our return to Washington D.C., we also have expanded other activities, and this effort has been greatly enhanced by our association with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). For instance, we were one of the first organizations to support the AIBS Public Policy Office. The AERC Board has worked with this office annually (and often twice a year) to visit congressional leaders to promote funding for agencies ranging from NSF to USDA to USGS. Our participation over the past few years has contributed to the justification and restoration of funding for at least two agencies. We anticipate an increasing number of activities as we continue generating enthusiasm and momentum for the AERC and the services it provides in support of ecosystem science.
If you have not attended an AERC annual meeting recently, now is a good time to become more informed about our organization and plan on participating in our meeting next November. The topic of our 2002 symposium was "Exploring the funding outlook for environmental science research OR why does environmental science research appear to be chronically under-funded and can anything be done about it?" Two important messages emerged: 1) no federal or private group is a particularly effective advocate for ecosystem science, and 2) funding levels within the federal budget for ecosystem science are difficult to track.
At the business meeting following the symposium, the AERC Board concluded that the organization could do much to help address these problems. The Board voted to increase significantly AERC support for the AIBS Public Policy Office from our current $1000 per year and to provide $10,000 in additional funds this year. The Public Policy Office is supported in large part by contributions (over and above the regular membership fee) by AIBS member societies. The larger contribution will provide us with a significant increase in the level of assistance from the Public Policy Office and, as a result, will further increase the visibility and effectiveness of the AERC.
One of the first projects that the AIBS Public Policy Office will pursue on behalf of the AERC is to develop the capacity to regularly monitor the funding level for ecosystem science. This is not a straightforward task, as it is not easy to extract the amount of funding that goes to support ecosystem science from the federal budget or agency documents. It will be a major task for AIBS staff to determine how to do this, but after the first time it should be possible to repeat it on a regular basis. Having information on the amount of funding for ecosystem science and trends in the funding is essential as we make a case to agencies, OMB, or Congress for increased funding.
Another specific way in which the AIBS Public Policy Office will assist the AERC in promoting ecosystem science is to hold one or two "public roundtables" or other briefings each year for targeted audiences such as Congressional staff, members of the press, or representatives of NGOs or agencies. AIBS will enable us to publicize the contributions of ecosystem science in addressing important environmental problems facing the Nation. AERC already has co-sponsored one roundtable on "Bioterrorism" and one "Sensing the Environment: The Future of Environmental Observatory Networks". We solicit your suggestions for topics for such briefings. We tentatively are planning to hold a Hill briefing during our next annual meeting.
Please note the dates for the next annual meeting, Thursday, November 13, and Friday, November 14, at the S. Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian Institution. I would like to receive suggestions for topics for press or Hill briefings by June 1. At present, the tentative agenda includes a morning symposium and afternoon Hill briefing on Thursday, and a business meeting on Friday morning.
We are excited about the potential for this expanded presence in Washington to increase our visibility and our effectiveness in promoting ecosystem science. We will keep you informed of our progress and developments as they happen. Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or suggestions.