Date: April 2, 2003 Contacts: Bill Kearney, Media Relations Officer Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant Office of News and Public Information (202) 334-2138; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Stronger Links Needed Between Everglades Restoration and Ecological-Monitoring Plans
A multibillion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades to a more natural state is currently under way in Florida. By capturing and storing excess water for later use during dry periods, planners hope to be able to maintain historical water levels, which they expect will revive many plant and animal species. To determine whether the Everglades are making an ecological comeback, a monitoring and assessment plan is being established by managers of the restoration effort to look for signs of recovery, such as new tree islands, more birds, greater seagrass coverage, and larger catches of shrimp.
The monitoring and assessment plan is grounded in current scientific theory and the principles of adaptive management, which bases decision-making on the ongoing collection and analysis of scientific evidence, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. However, steps need to be taken to ensure that "feedback" channels are in place so information from those who are monitoring the ecology of the Everglades is readily available to those implementing the overall restoration effort. Establishing these formal links will ensure that decisions are based on the most up-to-date scientific information. In addition, the plan needs to place greater consideration on how population growth and changes in land use will affect the restoration effort and vice versa.
Some ecosystem-wide indicators are needed to complement the more than 100 individual hydrologic and ecological performance measures identified so far, the report says. For example, digital aerial and satellite photos should be used to assess changes in land cover and land use, and native and total species diversity should be monitored as well. Likewise, measurements of nutrient runoff and the amount of organic material in soil are good indicators of how well an ecosystem is functioning. The plan also needs to consider how rising sea levels and severe weather associated with global climate change will affect the restoration effort.
Experimental controls should be incorporated into the plan wherever possible, the report adds. Currently the plan relies on what is known as a passive adaptive management approach, in which each step in the restoration is viewed as an experiment, followed by monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of the step just taken. But because this process is done without sound scientific controls -- such as comparing the area being restored to an unaffected area -- it cannot be used to infer cause and effect. It is therefore impossible to determine if ecological changes are the result of the restoration effort or of other human or natural forces, the report says.
Passive adaptive management may be the only feasible approach in the Everglades given the size and time scale of the restoration effort, but it should be augmented by active adaptive management in which controlled experiments are used to draw conclusions and test alternative policies, the report says. Managers of the restoration also should seek guidance from experts in sampling design and the analysis of environmental data.
Adaptive management will be most effective for those components of the restoration where there is clear foreknowledge of the kind of scientific data that must be collected to inform management and design decisions, the report notes. The plan's authors therefore should evaluate which of the 68 major components of the Everglades restoration would benefit the most from science and monitoring efforts, and use that evaluation to focus monitoring and assessment activities in regions where the results can have the greatest impact.
Besides being a key component in the adaptive management process, parts of the monitoring and assessment plan should serve as a report card for the public, while other parts should aid government agencies in determining whether the restoration effort complies with environmental regulations, the report says. And although the team that wrote the monitoring and assessment plan did an excellent job whittling down a large number of possible ecological performance measures, the list is still too long to be useful. It should be refined to include those measures that most closely reflect progress toward restoration goals, in case funding for monitoring -- which currently appears secure and ample -- is reduced in the future.
The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.