Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Maryland BayStat - Fighting Crime, Restoring Ecosystems, and Connecting People

William Nuttle, Organizer for CERF 2011 Synthesis Sessions

I am just back from attending the EMECS conference, where I saw perhaps the best presentation ever on ecosystem restoration. For 40 minutes, the governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, led his audience on a sure-footed tour through the intricacies of ecosystem management in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. It was a winding tour that somehow, by the end, still managed to bring home the significance to the average citizen of what is being done. But what made the presentation truly remarkable is that O’Malley opened his presentation on the topic of crime and how a systematic approach to fighting crime prepared him for the task of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Before becoming governor, O’Malley served two terms as mayor of Baltimore. When he entered office in 2000 Baltimore’s murder rate was five times the rate in New York City. During the 1990s New York served as a proving ground for systematic approach to fighting crime that was credited with reducing the crime rate. The approach, known as CompStat, implements concepts of quality control and systems management borrowed from business and industry. O’Malley brought a similar program to Baltimore and expanded it into a general approach for management and accountability in government. 

O’Malley’s program for restoring the Chesapeake Bay, established in 2007, goes by the name of BayStat. It’s touted as a “tool designed to assess, coordinate and target Maryland’s Bay restoration programs, and to inform our citizens on progress.” Underlying this approach is an extensive program of environmental monitoring, modeling, and analysis by state agencies and academic scientists. Managers meet frequently with scientists and political leaders to assess progress toward restoration goals and adapt management actions based on results obtained. 

One is tempted to say that there is really nothing new to BayStat. There are direct parallels between elements of O’Malley’s program and elements of ecosystem-based management and adaptive management as described in numerous reports by the National Research Council, Council for Environmental Quality, and large environmental NGOs. Quantitative ecosystem indicators, performance measures, restoration targets, and a report card – they are all here.

What makes Maryland's BayStat so special?

Well, for one thing, it is remarkable to see a political leader take the reins and offer a reasoned assessment of current conditions and progress toward restoration, including a summary analysis of the data on half a dozen indicators. This shows a reassuring commitment at the political level. But there is a bit of magic at work here as well. Somehow, in the politician’s hands the bare concepts behind ecosystem-based management, which lie inert on the pages of so many technical reports, become a means to connect people with each other and people with the ecosystems in which they live. Maybe, the magic is in the ability to articulate what  fighting crime and restoring ecosystems have in common.

The information in this post relates to Topic 3: Management applications and Topic 6: Management challenges of the CERF 2011 synthesis sessions.

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