U.S. Geological Survey Cuts Summer Jobs, Scales Back Research
Sequestration cuts $3 million, jeopardizes more than 100 summer research jobs
ANCHORAGE - There's a lot of land and a lot of wildlife in Alaska, which makes it the perfect place for aspiring scientists.
“We hire a lot of young high school and college students and recent graduates to work in our research program,” Leslie Holland-Bartels said Friday. She’s the regional manager for the U.S. Geological Survey, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior that focuses on science research for ecosystems, the environment, and natural resources throughout the country.
For her, the USGS “really is a place where they get their first opportunity to learn what it means to be a scientist.”
But federal budget cuts due to sequestration have cut $3 million from the agency’s $50 million dollar budget last Friday, March 1. That’s roughly a 5 percent cut, but due to fixed costs for things like facilities, Holland-Bartels said it works out to an impact that’s closer to 8 percent.
That means more than 100 fewer hires this summer, jobs that are mostly done by college and graduate students. Holland-Bartels said the cuts mean “we're reducing the number of young people that help us get out in the field.”
The scaling back will impact programs like summer bird monitoring in Alaska, which provides information on diseases like avian flu.
“Alaska is an international crossroads for all these migratory populations, so we have millions of birds that come to Alaska to breed,” said John Pearce, the USGS Branch Chief of Wetlands and Terrestrial Ecology. From his Anchorage lab, they conduct necropsies on animals and use genetic analysis to follow how diseases can mutate in bird populations that migrate between Asia and North America.
Pearce says Alaska “is sort of a mixing ground for Asian and North American populations of migratory birds,” and his office uses genetics to “tell if any of the strains of avian influenza [have] come from Asia or North America.” He said that information is important for other wildlife and public health agencies, in Alaska and nationwide.
Pearce said he worries that the cuts “might influence information to the public, or it might influence the hiring of a student, and getting them involved in some of the work that we do.”
Volcanic monitoring at the Volcano Science Center in Anchorage will also feel the cuts.
“We won't be able to bring in as much instrumentation,” said Thomas L. Murray, the director of the center, who said maintenance on over 30 volcano monitoring stations is being reduced. He emphasized that the center will still “have the existing instrumentation, we will be able to detect it, we still will be able to forecast activity here,” but with the cuts to seasonal staff, “it's just not gonna be as good of a job as we could do.”
And with fewer people to do the jobs, the USGS is not only concerned about its upcoming projects, but also about it's future in the state.
This summer “was really our opportunity to bring in young Alaskans in to our research organization and have them learn how we do our science,” said Holland-Bartels, who said she started her career with the USGS as a summer hire decades ago. She said the research that summer workers do supports everything from National Parks, to wildlife management, to stream monitoring and fish and wildlife science. And now, with scaling back through the agency, “those are the youngsters that we're not hiring right now.”