Science-policy interface: Where the science of ecology meets the public domain of decision making

Sarah Anderson is a PhD candidate at Washington State University studying how sources of atmospheric nitrogen deposition change over different time scales using a combination of stable isotope analyses and atmospheric modeling. She has been an ESA member since 2010, received the Graduate Student Policy Award in 2014, and is currently serving as the student section liaison to the policy section. 


By Sarah Anderson, ESA Policy Section Liaison

The Policy Section is one of the newest ESA sections. It was organized in 2011 and established in 2012. The section is swiftly developing a focus on providing opportunities and opening doors for ecologists to engage with policy, especially as students and early-career ecologists. The objectives of the section include fostering interactions and facilitating collaborations among ecologists to provide policy experience and to support ecologists that want to learn more about policy. The section is still growing and carving out its niche of activities, events, and services to the broader ESA community. That means there are plenty of opportunities for students to have input and get involved.

When we think of ecologists, we often think of the scientist out in the field taking measurements, making observations, and collecting samples or someone in the lab conducting analyses. In reality, ecologists find themselves in areas and roles beyond those of the stereotype and often these alternative roles fall within the science-policy interface. So what is this interface? It is where the science of ecology meets the public domain of decision-making. This takes several forms, from Congress allocating funding for scientific research to a local research project providing information to natural resource managers.

It important for ecologists to be aware of the importance of policy, as it relates to their work, even if they choose not to participate in the proccess. Much of the support for our research is the result of the science-policy process that allocates funding for federal research programs, such as those through NSF. Often, the broader impacts of our work relate to policy issues with the potential to inform decision-making. Also, we are part of the citizenry that makes up our communities. It is important to be a part of those communities; to engage in the policy processes and decision-making of the places we live and do our work.

If you are intrigued by science-policy and how an ecologist can fit into that potentially exotic environment, then I invite to join the Policy Section on our field trip during the ESA Annual Meeting Ecologists go to Washington: Exploring the Frontier of Ecology and Public Policy. The field trip will be a great opportunity to learn about science-policy and see the many roles ecologists have found and fill within the science-policy interface.

The field trip is planned for Friday August 14th. We plan to begin the morning with a brief training on the policy process based on the curriculum AAAS puts together for their science-policy fellows. This training will also help you find ways to enter the science-policy interface in a way that is right for you. We will then have a panel with many ecologists who have worked in different science-policy roles, from science-policy fellows at the state and national level, scientists at government agencies, to ESA leadership who are the face of ESA and often interact with different policy-makers. The panel will be a diverse group in both experiences and career-level. The day will conclude with a networking reception where you will have the opportunity to chat with panel members one-on-one as well as meet several other science-policy folks who will join us. Thanks to the Student Section, there will be funding available to cover the field trip fee, so look for announcements about financial support to attend the field trip for free in April.

If you are not able to attend the Annual Meeting this year and are still intrigued by how ecology and policy interact, then I invite you to take a look at the Policy Section’s Facebook Page where we post announcements about different opportunities for early-career ecologists to engage in the science-policy process.

The policy arena provides a slew of opportunities for ecologists where their skills and science can be applied and the rubber can hit the road. Check out the policy section for ways to learn more about the opportunities at this interface.