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2006 Customer Listening Session: Specific Societal Trends/Issues and Implications for Science Priorities

Throughout the session, participants highlighted trends, specific issues, and problems they view as priorities for USGS attention and resources in the science strategy. In many cases, the participants offered suggestions for how USGS could use its skills and resources to address these top issues. The priority societal issues mentioned include:

  1. Energy
  2. Water and nexus of water with other key issues
  3. Natural hazards
  4. Zoonotic diseases
  5. Invasive species research


Some participants relayed that energy and minerals are a top domestic priority. The critical need for alternative fuels and the connection of energy and the economic viability of the U.S. drive attention to this area and the importance of USGS involvement.

Participants noted that USGS has the fundamental understanding of the location and make-up of minerals throughout the country from is long-term work in this area, but is also positioned to be a leader in the future of energy issues, including alternative fuel research and development such as biofuels and geothermal sources as well as 3-D mapping of mineral resources. USGS could also provide major contributions to planning and managing natural resources related to energy production, such as mapping location of wildlife at a landscape scale to avoid impacting endangered species.

Participants commented that among the specific science questions presented for energy and minerals, priorities include balancing land use needs and to assess the societal and environmental costs of energy-related activities.


Many of the participant's key scientific issues and priority activities related to the importance of water resources, both as a significant science and policy issue in itself and as a nexus for several other societal issues USGS has identified, such as water for ecosystem needs and the link between water and energy, such as in development of coal-bed methane.

Some participants noted that water quality and availability sit at the root of many of society's most pressing concerns. Accurate estimates of water flows, assessments of groundwater availability and use, surface water hydrology, and stream health are needed to maintain fresh water ecosystems. Better understanding of water quality is also a priority, including activities to monitor nutrients and emerging contaminants, assess storm water quality, monitor drinking water quality, research desalination, and manage water reuse. A participant stressed that research on nutrient and sediment tracing will provide information useful for watershed restoration decisions. On the supply side, conflicts over water supply allocation have become controversial in some U.S. regions, and agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation need research data to help understand and resolve these situations.

Natural Hazards

Many participants shared that natural hazards planning, prediction, and recovery is a top national priority. Following large-scale natural disasters in several areas of the country in recent years, government and public concern about the nation's ability to withstand and respond to hurricanes, flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, and pandemic disease outbreaks has risen. Significant government resources directed to addressing the hazards issue also signal the national focus on improving capabilities in the hazards area.

A specific key need for the science around natural hazards expressed by participants is good geospatial mapping, especially at the regional level. This information helps planners and researchers identify and characterize hazards and potential hazards. USGS can be involved in monitoring, collecting data, integrating information, and translating information for officials and the public related to hazards. Other participants suggested that USGS continue to enhance its disaster response role, including rapid-response tools. USGS could provide both needed baseline and trend information and post-disaster data useful in response planning.

Zoonotic diseases

Several participants also listed zoonotic infectious diseases listed as a high priority societal issue by several participants. The spread of avian flu has elevated this issue in the mind of Congress and the public. USGS data on animal and populations and distribution, such as migratory bird patterns, along with the Survey's capability to study this data in an integrated way, can have an impact on addressing disease concerns. Participants suggested that specific steps such as increasing population monitoring, enhancing integration between natural science and social science and among natural sciences, and geospatial modeling will help strengthen predictive capabilities and national readiness for coping with zoonotic disease outbreaks.

Invasive species research

Several participants suggested that invasive species should be a top priority for the USGS science strategy. According to one participant, invasive species costs farmers and ranchers billions of dollars. Resource managers and regulators, along with the land users, struggle over increased competition for how best to use the land, balancing agriculture, development, wildlife, and ecological needs. USGS has a role in collecting and analyzing biodiversity data to provide regular pictures of the ecological baseline. This information would assist managers in developing invasive species management plans and wildlife management plans. The information also would help agencies identify priority pathways where responses, planning, and management are most crucial.

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