Letter from the Chair

Network News Fall 2013, Vol. 26 No. 4

As we wind up 2013, it is worth reflecting on some positive experiences and negative challenges that occurred this past year. First the positive: In 2013 the US Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network paid tribute to the tremendous growth and success of the International LTER (ILTER) Network during its 20th anniversary.ILTER was conceived at the 1993 All Scientist Meeting and the Network currently now boasts nearly 40 participating countries. Indeed, the well-attended LTER Mini-Symposium held in late February 2013 at the National Science Foundation highlighted the global reach of long-term research, including research partnerships between a number of US and International LTER sites and scientists.

This theme carried through to our annual Science Council meeting hosted by the Jornada Basin LTER in Las Cruces, New Mexico. That meeting included a fantastic keynote presentation by Prof Manual Maass, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who is Head of the Mexico LTER Network and the current Chair of the International LTER Network.

One of the more sobering challenges we faced in 2013 was the shutdown of the Federal Government from October 1 through 16, 2013. It was abundantly clear to us during the shutdown how much we depend on our numerous positive interactions with federal agencies and their scientists, interactions that we perhaps took for granted.

Indeed, 10 LTER sites are located in areas where access is controlled by the US Government, including the Palmer and McMurdo LTER sites in Antarctica, as well as lands managed by federal agencies, such as the US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. All federal facilities at these sites were closed and most of the federal scientists were furloughed during the shutdown.

In a few cases, these agencies were closed to all scientists conducting research on federal property. At one point, NSF considered cancelling the field season in Antarctica this year! Fortunately, that did not happen. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how the shutdown affected the ability of LTER scientists to collect data from on-going long-term projects. Hopefully, such shutdowns can be avoided in the future because they appear to have very few positive political impacts.

Despite these bumps in the road, LTER scientists continue to conduct cutting-edge and newsworthy research that addresses important ecological theory while being highly relevant for environmental policy and management. In addition, the LTER Network remains an innovative platform for training the next generation of natural scientists in collaborative, integrative, long-term research. All-in-all, the LTER Network remains a vibrant and exciting community of scientists and educators that will continue to expand and communicate our knowledgebase on how Earth’s ecosystems respond to natural and anthropogenic forces now and in the future.