Improving Public Policy
Additional shark and ray species proposed for CITES Appendix II listings
In December, a record-breaking 67 governments co-sponsored proposals to list 18 species of sharks and rays, including giant guitarfish, white-spotted wedgefish, and mako sharks, on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In recent decades, these populations have suffered significant declines—largely driven by the international demand for their fins—but a listing on Appendix II would require that trade in these species be legal, sustainable, and traceable. CITES has become a driving force in global shark conservation and management by adopting listings to cap international trade of threatened species to sustainable levels and by encouraging countries to pass legislation to manage the animals. Pew will continue to work with partners to advocate for these vulnerable sharks and rays to be included in Appendix II. The listings will be considered at the 18th Conference of the Parties in May in Sri Lanka.
Congress permanently protects wild areas in Tennessee and Arkansas
In the final days of the 115th Congress in December, lawmakers approved legislation that will permanently protect more than 20,000 acres of the Cherokee and Ouachita national forests in Tennessee and Arkansas. The areas will conserve wildlife habitat, safeguard pristine watersheds, and preserve stretches of the Appalachian and Ouachita national recreation trails. Pew’s U.S. public lands staff worked with congressional delegations, local partners, businesses, and communities in both states to build support for these special places, furthering Pew’s goal of expanding the National Wilderness Preservation System.
United Kingdom proposes protections around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
The United Kingdom government announced in December full protection for an additional 114,000 square miles of waters within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) surrounding South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a U.K. territory in the South Atlantic. The region, a world-renowned biodiversity hot spot, is home to seals, whales, and some of the largest aggregations of penguins on the planet. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy team worked with members of the U.K. Parliament, scientists, business leaders, and partners to encourage these new protections. Together, the new safeguards cover an area approximately the size of Arizona, and opportunity remains to add further protections within the EEZ. This designation is the 11th that Pew has helped secure since 2006, and marks significant progress in the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy’s goal of increasing the number of great parks in the sea from nine to 15 by 2022.
Pew assists conservation efforts at the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
Staff from Pew’s ending illegal fishing and tuna conservation projects participated as formal observers during the 21st Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) last November in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The teams advocated for several priorities, resulting in the commission’s adopting proposals on port state measures and vessel monitoring systems that will better track fishing vessels in ICCAT waters and reduce illegal fishing. Pew also worked with policymakers to draft a proposal that would improve the management of bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack tunas. The proposal will be taken up at this year’s annual meeting and, if adopted, would be a positive step toward ending overfishing of the species and help rebuild stocks to healthy levels.
New Mexico expands Results First approach
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed legislation in February that will improve the state’s Accountability in Government Act by requiring evidence of program effectiveness in state agency budget requests. The law creates statewide definitions for key terms (such as “evidence-based,” “research-based,” and “program inventory”) and requires the Department of Finance and Administration and the Legislative Finance Committee to collaborate on implementing the new policies. It also instructs the finance department to develop budget instructions that require affected agencies to identify the amount of funding dedicated to evidence-based programs and say how the agency has prioritized evidence-based, research-based, and promising programs in its budget request. Since 2013, New Mexico has dedicated $350 million to evidence-based programs. By codifying the use of evidence in the state’s budget process and requiring agencies to proactively build their budget requests using evidence of effectiveness, the new law marks the beginning of more substantive executive branch engagement with evidence-based policymaking and a significant step toward long-term sustainability. The Pew-MacArthur Results First initiative has been working with New Mexico since 2011.
Stanford and Suffolk law schools launch online legal resource
Learned Hands, an online game in which users identify possible legal issues in true stories, launched in October. The project is a joint effort of Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab and Suffolk Law School’s Legal Innovation and Technology Lab, and is part of Pew’s civil legal system modernization project’s efforts to improve the way people understand and address their legal problems. Stanford and Suffolk are crowdsourcing information from users to train computer algorithms to identify legal issues from descriptions by people who are not experts in the legal system. Funded by Pew, Learned Hands is the first machine-learning program of its kind, and it may prove to be an essential building block for future legal information and referral portals throughout the country.
Sales of antibiotics for food animals fall; stewardship programs gain
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released data in December showing that overall sales of antibiotics for animal agriculture fell 33 percent from 2016 to 2017, marking an encouraging trend following last year’s first drop since 2009, when sales data were initially reported. The ongoing decline follows full implementation of FDA’s guidance eliminating antibiotic use for growth promotion and requiring veterinary oversight of antibiotics used in animal feed and water, policies that Pew championed. Also in December, Pew announced a framework for effective antibiotic stewardship programs after engaging in a two-year dialogue with the Farm Foundation, Tyson Foods, Walmart, McDonald’s, and other leading organizations from throughout the food animal supply chain. Both developments further Pew’s antibiotic resistance project’s goals of cutting in half the use of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture by 2021 and ensuring that major meat and poultry producers have incorporated transparent and accountable standards into industry quality assurance programs.
Michigan reforms its savings and tax incentives policies
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed legislation in December that reforms the state’s rainy day fund policies. The changes include a limit on the amount that may be taken out of the fund each year, helping ensure that the state does not drain all its reserves in one year. In previous economic downturns, Michigan quickly used all of its rainy day fund, leaving it with little cushion during a multiyear recession. The new law also increases the maximum amount the fund may hold at a given time, a level that is more in line with the state’s revenue decline experience during a recession. In another piece of legislation, state leaders required that all economic development incentive programs, including tax incentives and cash incentives such as grants and loans, be evaluated on four- and six-year cycles by a nonpartisan, independent evaluator. The law aims to equip lawmakers with better information about the economic impact of their incentive programs. With this new law in place, Michigan joins 30 states—including nearby Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—that require evaluation of economic development incentives. Over the past two years, Pew’s state fiscal health project has met with members of the governor’s budget team and the legislature to discuss how to create an evidence-based savings framework.
Research helps identify electronic health record usability and safety challenges
In November, the journal Health Affairs published research by Pew and MedStar Health on the safety of electronic health records (EHRs) used in pediatric care. The study examined 9,000 patient safety events, such as medication errors, associated with caring for children in three hospital systems. Fifty-six percent of the total events were related to the use of EHRs, and involved a medication issue, and 64 percent of those occurred because of issues related to the design and use of the systems by clinicians. Nearly 20 percent of the safety events reached the patient, although not all of them ultimately resulted in harm. The study highlights the potential for EHRs to contribute to medical errors. Incorrect drug amounts or treatment delays can cause patient harm, particularly in children, who are especially vulnerable. The findings support Pew’s goal of stronger federal safety requirements for EHRs, including forthcoming provisions specific to pediatric care.
Companies contribute industry data to open-access platform for antibiotic research
In October, Pew and biopharmaceutical company Achaogen reached an agreement to share data from the publicly traded firm’s discontinued antibiotic research program on Pew’s open-access Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research and Knowledge (SPARK). The platform is a cloud-based resource that allows scientists from around the world to learn from past research in their quest for novel antibiotics. In December, another leading pharmaceutical company, Novartis, also shared data with SPARK. These data contributions have established a precedent for other pharmaceutical companies, providing a way to ensure that scientific investments are not lost but used to reinvigorate the pipeline of antibiotics in development. The data could potentially help researchers from throughout industry and academia overcome scientific barriers that have impeded antibiotic discovery. The contributions further Pew’s ultimate goal of spurring innovation to combat resistance and enabling the scientific community to better understand how to combat the hardest-to-treat bacteria.
Alaska council adopts groundbreaking plan for the Bering Sea
In December, the North Pacific Council adopted the first fishery ecosystem plan for Alaska’s Bering Sea, creating a framework for implementing ecosystem-based fishery management in the region. The Bering Sea is home to the largest fisheries in the United States, globally important biodiversity, and indigenous communities. The plan is the first in the nation to establish specific measurable objectives for ecosystem conservation and includes protecting the ocean food web as well as minimizing fishing practices that catch non-target marine life and harm sensitive habitat. The plan is also the first to formally incorporate the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities into the council’s decision-making process. Pew assisted in developing the plan by helping set goals and objectives for the Bering Sea ecosystem and supporting groundbreaking science on early warning indicators to help managers account for shifting ocean conditions related to climate change, along with best practices for incorporating traditional knowledge.
New Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement announced
The Canadian government and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, representing more than 14,000 Inuit from the Baffin region, announced an agreement last December for the management of the Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound) National Marine Conservation Area in Nunavut, the most northern territory of Canada. The agreement allows for Indigenous co-management, a historic recognition of the natives’ sovereignty that will increase community participation in the research and stewardship of the biological and cultural resources of the area. It also creates economic development opportunities for communities through training and jobs. The pact will also establish the largest protected area of land or water in the country. Throughout the past decade, Pew has worked with the Canadian nonprofit organization Oceans North, local Inuit communities, and the Canadian government supporting the creation and co-management of Tallurutiup Imanga.