Professional societies have many roles but one of the most important is to communicate the value of research to the public and policy makers. Since the beginning of the Ecological Society of America in 1915, ecologists have organized their efforts to influence public policy issues. Some of the first concerns of members focused on protection of biologically diverse habitats. ESA’s first president, Victor Shelford, played an active role in establishing the Committee on the Preservation of Natural Conditions for Ecological Study in 1917. By 1946 Shelford’s efforts became controversial within ESA and led him to help establish the Ecologists Union that reorganized in 1950 as The Nature Conservancy. Many other presidents have continued to lead efforts that have had national and international impacts on environmental policies. This review examines examples of what several ESA presidents have done to initiate and stimulate concepts of sustainability, ecosystem management, acid rain, impacts of invasive species, climate change and the value of ecosystem services over the last few decades. ESA has joined efforts with other professional societies such as the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and others to coordinate communication and to increase effectiveness.
Working with other professional societies, the long record of science-based environmental activities developed by ESA members and their leaders has resulted in many changes over the last century. These important results indicate the need for organized efforts by professional ecologists in communicating policy concerns.
Several ESA presidents have played major roles in implementing important policy changes at the regional and national levels. The current Public Affairs Committee and the Governing Board work closely with ESA Presidents and others to communicate how ecological science contributes to on-going discussions of environmental problems and how to resolve them. The many issues that emerge over the next century will likely have some relationships to these earlier efforts. Other issues may be unique and unexpected. Members of the ESA will need to remain active and involved in setting priorities and determining how best to meet these challenges. Graduate students will continue to be among the most active spokespersons for environmental issues and have become increasingly organized and effective.