USGS Director Suzette Kimball testified about the priorities and capabilities of the USGS today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her written remarks follow:
Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell, members of the committee, thank you very much for inviting me to testify today. I am excited for this opportunity to share some of my views on the state of the USGS and its mission. I would like to start this conversation with some history.
In 1879, Congress passed legislation that merged several Federal scientific and mapping surveys. We call this statute our Organic Act, because it inaugurated the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). From the beginning, the mission of this combined endeavor was not only to map the West and locate resources, but also to push the boundaries of science. USGS scientists, for almost 140 years now, have pursued that mission with an uncommon dedication. I am honored to be their 16th Director and cognizant of the responsibility that the President, the Congress, and this committee have entrusted to me.
Not only is the USGS older than 12 of the States, it is also the forbearer of several important government agencies, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. In the time since we were established, technology and Earth science have evolved and we have evolved along with it, to meet the scientific needs of the Nation. For example, with the increase in global demand for critical mineral commodities, USGS has focused on conducting research to understand geologic processes that have concentrated known mineral resources at specific localities in the Earth’s crust and to estimate or assess quantities, qualities and areas of undiscovered mineral resources, or potential future supply. We have increased resources toward the National Geospatial program, earthquake early warning, volcano monitoring and the national streamgage network. USGS has also focused our activities on fulfilling statutory authorities, most recently by addressing national water availability and use through the SECURE Water Act.
Our evolution is evident, as you noted two years ago, Madame Chairman, in a resolution recognizing the anniversary of the massive earthquake that occurred in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska on March 27, 1964 (the Good Friday Earthquake). USGS science in response to that event helped confirm the theory of plate tectonics, fundamentally changing earthquake science. Shortly thereafter, in 1966, Bill Pecora, our 8th Director, advocated for the use of satellites to study natural resources. This innovation led to Landsat and opened the age of Earth observation from space.
In 1995, Congress merged biologists from the National Biological Survey with the USGS, helping us to become an integrated Earth science agency. As scientific and technological advances have revealed the complexity of the issues we face, the value of bringing Earth science disciplines together has become ever more apparent. Today’s challenges demand the innovation made possible by integrating the full breadth of USGS capabilities.
One example that illustrates the value of USGS’s diverse scientific capabilities is our leadership in understanding methylation processes of mercury. Mercury is a toxin that can build up in the food chain, becoming deadly to humans. It is most dangerous after undergoing a specific chemical change, methylation. Our geological expertise allows us to understand how and where methylation occurs, and our biological expertise allows us to understand how it affects plants, animals, and humans. Combining the talents, tools, and methods from these two disciplines is necessary to correctly assess methylmercury and its potential impacts.
I want to stress that we rely on numerous partnerships to pursue our scientific mission. The state geological surveys, universities, municipal governments, other Federal agencies, and foreign governments all count as critical partners of the USGS. As you may know, our budget is leveraged resulting in, approximately, an additional half a billion dollars contributed by our partners, especially State governments and other Federal agencies. We see this as an indication of their confidence in and support for our work. Such partnerships also have made it possible, for example, to create and publish a whole-lifecycle mining report, that offers industry and regulators guidance on how to site, develop, and close a mine with resource and environmental implications taken into account. In the future, we plan to do similar work for energy resources.
The USGS works closely with other Interior bureaus such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as other Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rather than duplicate those agencies’ missions, the USGS complements their research activities and contributes sound science for their decisionmaking. We are pleased to know that Congress looks to us, too, because researchers from the USGS are here hundreds of times a year meeting with you and your offices.
While I am proud of our integrated approach to problem solving, drawing on geological and biological science, remote sensing, epidemiology, ecology, or any of the myriad disciplines that constitute Earth science, innovation is the characteristic I most hope to nurture during my tenure in this office. While the Bureau has often been at the forefront of innovative research and science, we must take advantage of technological change and respond to emerging scientific directions to meet our full potential.
Today USGS labs are spearheading novel technologies. For example we are using eDNA to monitor the spread of Asian carp. We also work on other invasive species such as zebra mussels, brown tree snakes, and cheatgrass. Through our groundbreaking work on white-nosed syndrome, avian influenza and other wildlife diseases, the Bureau has become known as “the CDC of wildlife,” and is on the front lines of possible future epidemics.
One of our ongoing pursuits is 21st century mapping. In Alaska, we are harnessing our partnerships with the State and the University of Alaska, along with the technology of interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or ifsar, to produce modern geospatial information for the State. Back in the lower 48, high resolution elevation data are being collected using lidar technology by a coalition of Federal, State and private industry partners, to inform decisionmaking and enable newfound abilities like mapping and even forecasting landslides. The landslide tragedy at Oso, Washington, in 2014, not unlike the Good Friday Earthquake, pushes us to look farther, aim higher, and complete a scientific achievement worthy of the investment and trust placed in us by the American people.
Speaking of hazards, the USGS has long led Federal research into various geologic hazards and we are pressing forward on innovative approaches in this area, too. Along the West Coast, we are establishing, in cooperation with states, universities, and philanthropic partners, a state-of-the-art earthquake early warning system. This system could readily be expanded to Alaska and other high-risk regions of the country. We are also applying advanced telemetry and remote sensing technologies, making a volcano early warning system a reality. For many of your constituents, these are hazards they live with every day and they are also threats to the Nation as a whole.
The unknown unknowns of Earth science motivate us to advance our understanding of the natural world. As we look toward the future I see challenges where we are positioned to lead, all of which I have touched on: water security and availability, tools for protection from and response to natural hazards, assessment of critical minerals, forecasting and preventing biological threats, and creating the next generation of mapping tools and technology.
I have every confidence that the USGS will continue to meet these challenges, and I am heartened by a recent survey of marine and coastal scientists and managers which found the USGS to be the most credible Federal science agency. This is not a reason to boast, but a calling to meet such high expectations.
The mission of the USGS in the 21st century will not only be to locate natural resources for the benefit of the Nation, but to find ways of exploiting those resources sustainably so that our prosperity is not fleeting or fragile. For example, we are researching microbial production of natural gas, which may someday make it possible harness the energy of coal resources while avoiding many of the environmental costs traditionally associated with it. It is the job of the USGS, working with our partners, to help bring that future to fruition.
On behalf of the approximately 8,000 employees of the USGS, thank you again for inviting me here today. I would be happy to answer any questions you have.
New US Topo maps for Texas and Oklahoma are now available in the USGS Store for free download. One of the main improvements is the inclusion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) road data.
“The US Topo digital maps are a great public resource to provide authoritative, robust maps to emergency management field personnel and first responders when response time matters”, said Michael Ouimet, Critical Information Systems Manager for the Texas Division of Emergency Management. “Our agency deployed the US Topo digital maps to our field personnel across the state.”
Other important additions to the new US Topo maps for Texas and Oklahoma are the integration of wetlands layers using data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory, along with the continued incorporation of “crowdsourced” trail data from the International Mountain Bike Association.
The US Topo map improvement program has entered its third, three-year cycle of revising and updating digital US Topo quadrangles. These new US Topo maps replace the second edition US Topo maps and are available for no-cost file download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , and several other USGS applications.
The USGS recently released US Topo maps for Wisconsin, Iowa and Kansas which were the first set of states to feature TIGER data. The TIGER database contains all geographic features — such as roads (more than 6.3 million miles), railroads, rivers, and legal and statistical geographic boundaries — needed to support the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination programs.
To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection.
For more information on US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/.Scan of the 1886 legacy topographic map quadrangle of the greater Austin, Texas area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection Updated 2016 version of the East Austin US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the improved road network. (1:24,000 scale) Updated 2016 version of the East Austin US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale)
PEARL, Miss. – Nearly $3.3 million in state and federal disaster assistance has been disbursed to help those affected by the storms and flooding in Mississippi that began March 9, 2016.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been contacted by nearly 2,200 people for help or information regarding disaster assistance.Language English
Push Notifications to Remind Users to Take Simple Steps to Prepare for Disasters, Provide Easy Access to Information on How to Be Ready for Fires, Severe Weather, and other HazardsLanguage English
Disaster Recovery Centers Open in Pineville, Rapides Parish and Many, Sabine Parish for Louisiana Survivors
BATON ROUGE, La. – Disaster recovery centers will open Wednesday, April 6, in Pineville, Rapides Parish and Many, Sabine Parish to help Louisiana flood survivors. The centers are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays until further notice.
The disaster recovery centers are located at the following addresses:
The Old Cleco Bldg
201 Cleco Drive
PEARL, Miss. – Mississippians whose homes were damaged in the recent storms and flooding may encounter people attempting to cheat them by posing as inspectors, government officials, volunteers or contractors. These people may try to obtain personal information or collect payment for disaster assistance or repairs.Language English
AUSTIN, Texas – At the request of the state of Texas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has added Henderson, Limestone, Shelby and Tyler to the federal disaster declaration of March 19. They join the nine counties already approved for both Individual Assistance and Public Assistance: Erath, Gregg, Harrison, Hood, Jasper, Marion, Newton, Orange and Parker.Language English
PEARL, Miss. – A disaster recovery center is now open in Quitman County to provide assistance to survivors of the severe storms and flooding that began March 9, 2016.
Recovery centers are run jointly by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Representatives of state, federal and voluntary agencies are set up in the center to explain the various programs designed to help survivors recover.
The Quitman County center is located at the Marks Fire Department, 108 W. Main St,
Marks, MS 38646.Language English
PEARL, Miss. – At the request of Governor Phil Bryant, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has amended a recent disaster declaration for severe storms and flooding that began March 9, 2016. Survivors in George and Pearl River counties can now register with FEMA for disaster assistance through the Individual Assistance program.Language English
BATON ROUGE, La. – In the wake of a disaster, the people of Louisiana have always come together with compassion and courage to ask how they can help survivors.
Soon after a disaster people come forward to assist those in need. However, people often don’t realize there is still a great need a few weeks after the disaster. Currently, there is a shortage of volunteers, particularly in northern Louisiana.Language English
Baton Rouge, La. – Louisiana disaster survivors in Catahoula, East Carroll, Franklin, Lincoln and St. Helena parishes may now be eligible for federal disaster assistance.
Their first step is to register with FEMA.
Individuals in the designated parishes who had storm damage may apply for federal disaster assistance three ways:Language English
Baton Rouge, La. – Word of mouth is a powerful way to spread news. Amazing as it may seem, some people are so busy with their recovery from the March severe storms and floods, they may not have heard about federal help. Spread the word that the first step toward getting recovery assistance is to register with FEMA.
You could be the one to bring this important message to someone you know, perhaps a friend, neighbor, coworker, family member or acquaintance. Affected individuals, households and communities in Louisiana will be able to recover faster and stronger.Language English
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey released additional evidence that western Alaska remains a hot spot for avian influenza to enter North America. The new report announces that while no highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses have been found in Alaska, the state remains an important area to monitor due to migratory bird flyways from North America and Eurasia that overlap the region.
“Our past research in western Alaska has shown that while we have not detected the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, up to 70 percent of the other avian influenza viruses isolated in this area were found to contain genetic material from Eurasia, providing evidence for high levels of intercontinental viral exchange,” said Andy Ramey, a scientist with the USGS and lead author of the recent report. “This is because Asian and North American migratory flyways overlap in western Alaska.”
The designation of low or highly pathogenic avian influenza refers to the potential for these viruses to cause disease or kill chickens. The designation of “low pathogenic" or “highly pathogenic" does not refer to how infectious the viruses may be to humans, other mammals or other species of birds. Most strains of avian influenza are not highly pathogenic and cause few signs of disease in infected wild birds. However, in poultry, some low-pathogenic strains can mutate into highly pathogenic avian influenza strains that cause contagious and severe illness or death among poultry, and sometimes among wild birds as well.
Past research by the USGS, found low pathogenic H9N2 viruses in an Emperor Goose and a Northern Pintail. Both viruses were nearly identical genetically to viruses found in wild bird samples from Lake Dongting, China and Cheon-su Bay, South Korea.
“These H9N2 viruses are low pathogenic and not known to infect humans, but similar viruses have been implicated in disease outbreaks in domestic poultry in Asia,” said Ramey.
In the new report, the USGS collaborated with the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, Alaska, and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia to obtain and test bird samples from Alaska Native subsistence hunters during spring of 2015. Hunters provided researchers with over 1,000 swabs from harvested water birds, the primary hosts of avian influenza viruses.
Last year, the USGS published an article describing the introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza into North America at the end of 2014, likely via migratory birds that migrated through Alaska. However, highly pathogenic avian influenza was never documented in Alaska. The highly pathogenic viruses spread throughout parts of the western and Midwestern U.S., impacting approximately 50 million poultry. However, those highly pathogenic viruses have now not been detected in North America since July 2015.
This fall, the USGS will sample wild birds at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Most of those samples will come from sport hunters.
The new report is entitled, “Surveillance for Eurasian-origin and intercontinental reassortant highly pathogenic influenza A viruses in Alaska, spring and summer 2015” and is published in Virology Journal.
Additional information about avian influenza can be found at the following websites:
Ecosystem Restoration Projects Generate Jobs and Business Activity in Local, Regional, and National Economies
Riparian planting in the Powell River watershed in Lee County, Virginia. Part of the Lone Mountain NRDAR restoration. Photo credit: Upper Tennessee River Roundtable. Clearing of juniper in the Burley Landscape in Idaho. Photo credit: BLM.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – From restoring the sagebrush sea to rejuvenating watersheds and landscapes after fires, ecosystem restoration can bear substantial economic fruit for local, state and national economies, according to a USGS study published today.
USGS economists evaluated 21 Department of the Interior restoration projects and found that for each dollar invested in ecosystem restoration, there was a two- to three-fold return in economic activity that rippled through local, regional and national economies. Case study projects include restoration activities associated with Natural Resource Damage Assessment sites and Bureau of Land Management sagebrush and sage-grouse habitat restoration, fuels reduction and post-fire restoration projects.
“Based on case study results, we found that for every $1 million invested in ecosystem restoration, between $2.2 and $3.4 million flow through to the U.S. economy, demonstrating how such investments support jobs and livelihoods, small businesses and rural economies,” said USGS economist and lead author Catherine Cullinane Thomas.
The report quantified methods to provide economic impact analyses focused on the jobs and business activity generated through money spent on ecosystem restoration activities. The research was a joint project among the USGS, the DOI Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, the DOI Office of Policy Analysis, and the BLM Socioeconomics Program.
"This report highlights the importance of restoration activities not only for the benefit of natural resources impacted by oil spills or hazardous chemicals, but also for the economic well-being of human communities," said Steve Glomb, director of the DOI Office of Restoration and Damage Assessment.
"The study shows that these collaborative projects sustain our local economies in addition to restoring our nation's public lands and resources," said Josh Sidon, a BLM economist and study co-author.
All 21 case studies can be found at https://www.fort.usgs.gov/economic-impacts-restoration.
Economic impacts are reported as job-years, a measure of the total number of annualized full and part-time jobs accumulated over the duration of the restoration project. Labor income is a measure of the wages and salaries earned through the jobs supported by project expenditures. Value added is a measure of the contribution to Gross Domestic Product. Economic output is a measure of the total value of the production of goods and services supported by project expenditures.
Highlighted Case Studies:
Through Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, the BLM and other federal, state and local agencies and organizations teamed up to help restore and manage high-priority ecosystems in Utah, including portions of Colorado Plateau and Great Basin. WRI partners are providing better wildlife habitat, restoring critical watersheds and reducing the risk of wildfire to urban communities. To date, WRI partners have restored more than 1.1 million acres in Utah. Sagebrush restoration in the South Beaver area is one of many WRI projects. This area is crucial mule deer winter habitat, contains important elk habitat and historic sage-grouse habitat. Restoration in this area is ongoing and encompasses 145,000 acres.
Total cost of restoration: $3.5 million, an estimated 72 percent spent locally in Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties in Utah.
Local economic impacts:
Labor income: $1.9 million
Local economic output: $4.2 million
Contribution to GDP: $2.5 million
Regional economic impacts:
Labor income: $3.5 million
Regional economic output: $8 million
Regional contribution to GDP: $4.6 million
The area surrounding the BLM’s Burley Field Office in Idaho is home to a variety of species, such as the greater sage-grouse, mule deer, antelope, bighorn sheep and pygmy rabbit. In the late 1800’s, with the settlement of the west, this landscape began to shift from a sagebrush steppe ecosystem to woodlands dominated by Utah juniper and conifers, decreasing available habitat for sagebrush-dependent species such as the sage-grouse and mule deer.
Total cost of restoration: $1.4 million
Local economic impacts:
Labor income: $300,000
Local economic output: $450,000
Contribution to GDP: more than $310,000
Regional economic impacts:
Labor income: $1.6 million
Regional economic output: $3.1 million
Contribution to GDP: $1.9 million
The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in southern Illinois has a unique history of industry, employment and restoration. During World War II, the War Department established the Illinois Ordnance Plant on the site to manufacture ammunition and bombs. Following the war, the land was transferred into the National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1987, because of extensive environmental contamination from the ordnance plant and other industrial tenants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the industrial complex as a Superfund site. The wastewater treatment plant on the Crab Orchard NWR is one of 21 sites on the refuge that have been remediated.
Total cost of restoration of wastewater treatment plant: $9 million, more than a third spent in local economy
Local economic impacts:
Labor income: $1.8 million
Local economic output: nearly $5 million
Contribution to GDP: contributed $3 million
National economic impacts:
Labor income: nearly $9 million
National economic output: $22 million
Contribution to GDP: more than $13 million
For more information on the other case studies in this report please see the accompanying website at https://www.fort.usgs.gov/economic-impacts-restoration. The USGS Open-File Report, Estimating the economic impacts of ecosystem restoration—methods and case studies, was authored by Catherine Cullinane Thomas, USGS; Christopher Huber, USGS; Kristin Skrabis, DOI; and Joshua Sidon, BLM.
A new study offers hope for cold-water species in the face of climate change. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses a longstanding paradox between predictions of widespread extinctions of cold-water species and a general lack of evidence for those extinctions despite decades of recent climate change.
The paper resulted from collaborative research led by the U.S. Forest Service with partners including the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, University of Georgia and the Queensland University of Technology. The research team drew information from huge stream-temperature and biological databases contributed by over 100 agencies and a USGS-run regional climate model to describe warming trends throughout 222,000 kilometers (138,000 miles) of streams in the northwestern United States.
The scientists found that over the last 40 years, stream temperatures warmed at the average rate of 0.10 degrees Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. This translates to thermal habitats shifting upstream at a rate of only 300-500 meters (0.18-0.31 miles) per decade in headwater mountain streams where many sensitive cold-water species currently live. The authors are quick to point out that climate change is still detrimentally affecting the habitats of those species, but at a much slower rate than dozens of previous studies forecast. The results of this study indicate that many populations of cold-water species will continue to persist this century and mountain landscapes will play an increasingly important role in that preservation.
“The great irony is that the cold headwater streams that were believed to be most vulnerable to climate change appear to be the least vulnerable. Equally ironic is that we arrived at that insight simply by amassing, organizing and carefully analyzing large existing databases, rather than collecting new data that would have been far more expensive,” said Dr. Daniel Isaak, lead author on the study with the U.S. Forest Service.
The results also indicate that resource managers will have sufficient time to complete extensive biological surveys of ecological communities in mountain streams so that conservation planning strategies can adequately address all species.
“One of the great complexities of restoring trout and salmon under a rapidly changing climate is understanding how this change plays out across the landscape. Dr. Isaak and his colleagues show that many mountain streams may be more resistant to temperature change than our models suggest and that is very good news. This provides us more time to effect the changes we need for long-term persistence of these populations,” said Dr. Jack Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited.
This study is complementary and builds upon the Cold-Water Climate Shield. This new study is unique as it describes current trends rather than relying on future model projections and addresses a broad scope of aquatic biodiversity in headwater streams (e.g., amphibians, sculpin and trout). In addition, the data density and geographic extent of this study is far greater than most previous studies because over 16,000 stream temperature sites were used with thousands of biological survey locations to provide precise information at scales relevant to land managers and conservationists.
The study, entitled “Slow climate velocities of mountain streams portends their role as refugia for cold-water biodiversity” was conducted by Daniel Isaak, lead author from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Michael Young, Charles Luce, Dona Horan, Matt Groce and David Nagel of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Steven Hostetler, U.S. Geological Survey; Seth Wenger, University of Georgia; Erin Peterson, Queensland University of Technology; and Jay Ver Hoef, U.S. NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Additional funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Northern and North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
States covered by this study are Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana, as well as small portions of western Wyoming, northern Nevada, northern Utah and northern California.
Bull trout, a popular fish species of conservation concern, that find shelter in mountain stream climate refugia. Photographer: Bart Gamett, U.S. Forest Service
Miniature temperature sensors used to record hourly measurements in rivers and streams at thousands of sites where data were used to develop stream temperature climate scenarios. Photographer: Dan Isaak, U.S. Forest Service, firstname.lastname@example.org Northwest United States temperature and climate map developed from data at more than 16,000 sites that was used to highlight climate refugia for mountain stream species. Photographer: Dan Isaak, U.S. Forest Service, email@example.com Typical headwater mountain stream that will provide cold-water species climate refugia this century. Photographer: Dona Horan, U.S. Forest Service
The world's largest breeding population of ospreys is coping well with the long-lasting residues of toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago but remain in the Chesapeake Bay food chain at varying levels, such as the pesticide DDT and insulating chemicals known as PCBs. The resilient fish hawks are also showing few effects from two other groups of chemicals that have become widespread in the estuary—flame retardant PBDEs and pharmaceuticals intended for human use. Those are key findings of a three-year study led by US Geological Survey scientists, which follows up on a wide-ranging USGS survey conducted in 2001 of persistent chemical pollutants in the fish and fish hawks of the Chesapeake Bay, the United States' biggest estuary.These osprey chicks in a nest on the James River in Virginia are just a few days old. Nestlings in industrial areas carry traces of toxic chemicals in their blood plasma, but osprey parents successfully raised chicks at almost all sites, says USGS scientist Rebecca Lazarus, lead author of 3 research papers on the ospreys' Chesapeake Bay food chain. Photo credit: Rebecca Lazarus, USGS.
The researchers tested fish, osprey eggs and the blood plasma of osprey chicks in the Chesapeake Bay's tidal waters. In the ospreys' eggs they found high levels of PCBs at some locations. They also found residues of DDT and a related compound, p,p'-DDE, but at levels much lower than the ones that caused osprey and bald eagle population declines in the late 20th century. Both PCBs and DDT were banned in the 1970s. Further, the researchers found that young ospreys are being exposed to PBDEs, which are considered potentially toxic to wildlife. Yet these residues had no discernible effect on the big raptors' success in the Chesapeake region, where as many as 10,000 breeding pairs are expected to nest this season.
"Osprey populations are thriving almost everywhere in the Chesapeake," said Rebecca Lazarus, a researcher at the USGS' Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the lead author of a report on the study's latest findings, published April 1 in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. "We found them nesting in some of the most highly contaminated areas in the Bay and we did not find any relationship between contaminants and their nests' productivity."
The scientists found one cautionary sign: the osprey nestlings' blood carried low levels of a biological marker for genetic damage. Levels of the marker were highest in one of the bay's most polluted areas, near Baltimore's Back River wastewater treatment plant, and osprey nests near that plant did poorly at raising chicks to adulthood. Baywide, the damage is not enough to affect the birds' overall ability to reproduce, but it may be having subtle, undetected effects, and warrants more research, Lazarus said.
USGS researcher Rebecca Lazarus prepares to take a blood sample from an osprey fledgling in a nest on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Delaware Bay in 2015. Lazarus and colleagues did similar sampling of 48 chicks on Chesapeake Bay in 2011-2013. All the Chesapeake Bay nestlings' blood plasma had traces of a human medication to fight hypertension, diltiazem, and biomarkers of low-grade genetic damage, with no discernible effects on the ospreys' reproductive success. Photo credit: USGS.
Ospreys have just returned from winter homes in South America to Chesapeake Bay, the estuary one writer called "the osprey garden of the world." The bay's shallow waters and abundant fish attract roughly one-quarter of the Lower 48 States’ ospreys. The fish hawks usually return to the nests they used the year before. In March the males in each of the Bay's breeding pairs began gathering sticks to mend their nests. By mid-April most females will be brooding two or three eggs.
These charismatic fish hawks are one of the world's most widely distributed birds, found on every continent but Antarctica, and one of its most distinctive, with golden eyes, six-foot wingspans, and barbed talons adapted to hold wet, wriggling fish. Their global range, all-fish diet, and their role as a top predator make them ideal subjects for studies of water pollutants' paths through the aquatic food chain. The USGS research is the one of the world's most comprehensive studies of ospreys' exposure to toxic chemicals; a similar study on Pacific Northwest ospreys was published in 2008.
In the 1960s and 1970s scientists found the pesticide DDT was biomagnifying, becoming concentrated in ospreys and other fish-eating birds and causing females to lay eggs so fragile that they cracked under the parents' weight. The bay's osprey population fell to fewer than 1,500 pairs before DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972. In 1979 Congress also banned PCBs, which can cause reproductive failure in animals. PBDEs, which were introduced as replacements for PCBs, are being phased out because of concerns about potential toxicity.
The EPA classifies more than 70 percent of Chesapeake Bay tidal waters as impaired by toxic chemicals. To track these toxics and their effects on bay ospreys, Lazarus and her colleagues collected fish, osprey eggs, and blood samples from 48 osprey chicks along Chesapeake Bay tributaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Working during the spring and summer nesting season from 2011 through 2013, they included several sites the EPA considers pollution "regions of concern" – Baltimore's Harbor and Patapsco River; Washington, DC's Anacostia and Potomac rivers; and the Elizabeth River at Hampton Roads, Virginia.
In the first set of study findings, published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Pollution, the researchers found that in these heavily industrial, urban regions of concern, levels of the DDT breakdown byproduct were 80% lower than in the 2001 study, but PCB levels barely declined at all. Osprey eggs from developed areas had PCB levels three to four times higher than at nests on an island in the open bay.
"In fact the levels of PCBs have not changed significantly in the past 35 years, which tells you how persistent these chemicals are," said USGS ecotoxicologist Barnett Rattner, an expert on toxics in bay ospreys who led the 2000-2001 study and worked with Lazarus on the latest research. "Yet the birds are doing well. They're exposed to these toxic chemicals, which are biomagnified up the food chain, yet fortunately we do not see any really serious effects in ospreys."
In the next phase of the work, the researchers reported finding numerous human medications in Chesapeake Bay water samples, but only one in osprey chicks. Pharmaceutical compounds pass through humans' waste into wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, which discharge them into waterways. The scientists looked for 23 pharmaceutical compounds and an artificial sweetener and found 18 of them in bay waters and seven in fish. The drug diltiazem, used to treat hypertension in people, was found in all 48 chicks' blood samples, though at levels below those known to cause adverse effects in wildlife.
"Some of these chemicals are in the wastewater stream, but they do not seem to be biomagnifying in ospreys," Rattner said. Those results were published in 2015 in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.
For more information on USGS science being used to help restore the Chesapeake Bay, visit http://chesapeake.usgs.gov/
DENTON, Texas –– The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded an initial payment of $1,875,000 to the state of Texas for the city of Rowlett for debris removal. A tornado swept through the city on Dec. 26, 2015, along a 3.5 mile track. Storm debris blocked the paths of emergency vehicles and the general public and created significant danger to motorists. The city of Rowlett removed debris to eliminate threats to public health and safety.Language English
Disaster Recovery Centers Open in Merryville, Beauregard Parish; Franklinton, Washington Parish; and Vinton, Calcasieu Parish, for Louisiana Survivors
BATON ROUGE, La. – Disaster recovery centers will open Saturday, April 2, in Merryville, Beauregard Parish; Franklinton, Washington Parish; and Vinton, Calcasieu Parish, to help Louisiana flood survivors. The centers are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays until further notice.
The disaster recovery centers are located at the following addresses:
Merryville Community Center
3024 S. Pine St.
PEARL, Miss. – A disaster recovery center is now open in Bolivar County to provide assistance to survivors of the severe storms and flooding that began March 9, 2016.
Recovery centers are run jointly by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Representatives of state and federal agencies are set up in the center to explain the various programs designed to help survivors recover.
The Bolivar County center is located at:
Willard R Samuels Jr. Gymnasium
700 N. Chrisman Ave.Language English
PEARL, Miss. – Outreach teams from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are canvassing disaster-damaged neighborhoods around Mississippi.
The teams are working in federal disaster-designated counties to give residents an opportunity to register for disaster assistance and to quickly identify and address immediate and emerging needs. The teams can also provide application updates and referrals to additional resources for remaining needs.Language English