In July, advisors to the President called for the US to begin tracking the state of its ecosystems and evaluating the economic benefits they provide. This report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommends a quadrennial, across the board assessment of the state of US ecosystems and the services they provide.
Right now, the US federal government spends about $10 Billion per year on ecosystem restoration and preservation. This figure does not include investments made by state and local governments and by private groups. One of the concerns raised by the report is that data from government-supported environmental monitoring programs are not available to assess the efficacy of these investments, or indeed whether more work is needed
“The Nation has an urgent need for more complete monitoring systems in order to inform policy, as a basis for development of predictive capabilities, and to address issues of compliance, assessment, and management.” The committee recommends that the federal government conduct a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s ecosystems every four years, the Quadrennial EcoSystems Trends (QuEST) Assessment.
Managing the data in such an effort would be challenging, and this requires attention to data accessibility and the innovative use of information technologies. Other challenges relate to the science underlying ecosystem monitoring and analysis. Questions that must be addressed include:
- “Are current modeling methods adequate to predict the consequences of human-ecosystem dynamics for biodiversity preservation, for ecosystem services, and for biosecurity?
- “What is the scope for using socio-economic data in modeling anthropogenic environmental change?
- “How can existing monitoring systems be augmented to include such data?”
The recommendations lack the force of regulation or policy. But they do indicate recognition at high levels of need for regular reporting on the nation’s ecological health and, implicitly, for the science underlying ecological monitoring and assessment. Details remain, but implementation must keep in sight that national ecological assets are not simply numbers in a ledger; they are where people live and the resources we depend on.
The information in this post relates to Topics 1 and 5 of the CERF 2011 synthesis sessions.
Figure credit: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/ecosys/background.html