November 30, 1999
We shall not cease from exploration
T. S. Elliot
Program Priorities - Synopsis
"The complex nature of natural ecosystems, and the increasingly complex nature of human stresses and demands on ecosystems, means that simple and narrowly focussed approaches are not sufficient to penetrate modern environmental problems."
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is the principal center for scientific investigations within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Although it does not manage or regulate public lands or activities, the USGS, through its various programs, provides data and analyses that are responsive to the needs of Federal, State and local agencies, and other resource management and policymaking partners and clients (stakeholders). One of these programs is the Place-Based Studies Program (PBS), formerly the Ecosystem Program or Integrated Natural Resource Science Program, which was established by the USGS in fiscal year (FY) 1995.
The Program is concentrated in selected study areas. Activities in San Francisco Bay and south Florida began in 1995. Chesapeake Bay was added in FY 1996, and Platte River, Greater Yellowstone, and Mojave Desert in FY 1998. The existing USGS work in Salton Sea will be incorporated into the program in FY 2000. Programs in each study area are expected to last approximately five years, but additional follow-up studies or monitoring may extend the timeframe. Additional ecosystem study areas are added as funding levels permit.
The fundamental scientific goals of the program are to elucidate the interactions between ecosystem stresses and responses. Improved societal understanding of the structure and function of ecosystems is needed to improve our stewardship of the nation's environment and natural resources. The objective of the Program is to provide relevant, high-quality, impartial scientific information to enable resource-management agencies that require an improved scientific information base to make informed planning decisions and to help resolve and prevent resource-management conflicts. The information is designed to have a direct, significant, and immediate impact on management and policy decisions. The Program draws upon a diverse pool of scientific expertise primarily resident in the USGS. Integrated, inter-disciplinary teams link information on physical, chemical, and biological responses to environmental and resource management involving water, minerals, land, fish and wildlife. Such information has transfer value for similar situations in other geographic locations.
The PBS establishes priorities by soliciting stakeholder input. Input at the regional level helps to ensure that the form and content of the information provided in each ecosystem are relevant and timely to our partners. Input is gathered through formal and informal interactions with local and regional coordination groups, sponsorship of workshops and meetings with Federal, State and local agencies to discuss program components, study design and results. At the National level, representatives of relevant Federal agencies within the DOI Science Board and the Ecosystem Advisory Committee provide guidance to the Program.
PROGRAM RATIONALE, GOALS, AND SCIENTIFIC FOUNDATION
The costs of restoration can be large, both for physical environmental alterations, and for forgone use of land and water resources. These economic realities demand effective environmental solutions and efficient resource use. Scientific information helps to ensure
Resolution of resource management issues often requires information from diverse scientific disciplines that are at the heart of USGS capabilities and responsibilities. Under PBS, the teams that are formed to integrate the scientific disciplines bring a diversity of scientific skills to solve the complex, multifaceted environmental problems that are characteristic of major environmental debates. These teams face similar challenges across the country - defining historical ecosystem changes, designing monitoring programs for restoration and management, developing decision support systems (and science that supports those systems) that can be used to predict the effects of management actions. Scientifically derived relationships are needed to relate different types of ecosystem data.
Regional environmental resource issues in many ecosystems are at critical decision- making junctures. In south Florida, a restoration costing $11 billion to $15 billion will be based in part on scientific predictions of the probable effects of restoration actions. In San Francisco Bay, multimillion-dollar modifications of wetlands and the water management system require multidisciplinary scientific information. In Chesapeake Bay, implementation of changes in land use practices requires information on the effects of those practices on nutrient and sediment loading into Chesapeake Bay. The primary audience for the technical information is intended to be managers and their scientific support staff, but the public is also becoming increasingly able to use the data resources that are available over the Internet. The time may come when private landowners will approach the management of their own land with a degree of sophistication that rivals experienced agency managers.
Goals and Objectives
The goal of the Program is to enable resource managers to use sound science as a basis for informed planning decisions and resolution and prevention of resource-management problems. The objectives of the Program are to:
The Scientific Foundation
Scientists seeking to define predictive relationships within ecosystems face a high degree of uncertainty and troubling lack of information. The National Academy of Sciences has described the limitations of the current state of science related to restoration.
"Even where general trends, such as wildlife population declines or changing stream quality, are clear, scientists are often unable to determine the impact of a specific action on those trends with any precision (or even whether the trends are a consequence of previous human actions or are natural). Problems of cumulative effects, lack of site-specific ecological knowledge, and the natural variability of ecological systems conspire to add substantial uncertainty to almost all uses of scientific knowledge in environmental decision-making. As a consequence, we must place as much emphasis today on techniques and policies for coping with uncertainty as we do on efforts to reduce that uncertainty."3
The Committee on Global Change Research identified "Scientific Questions"4, answers to which are critically needed to move forward the state-of–the-art. These issues are the foundation for scientific activities within Place-Based Studies.
The Interdisciplinary Framework - The PBS niche is to provide integrated,
Cross-disciplinary Programmatic Elements –Certain Programmatic elements are shared across all of the "places" within PBS, because many of the problems encountered in managing environmental resources are similar across the country. In each of the "places", USGS information helps to set goals for management and restoration, helps to determine criteria and measure management success, improves understanding of ecosystem processes and status, and improves the modeling capability to predict the outcome of management strategies. The Program provides information in forms that are of maximum utility to resource and environmental managers, landowners and the general public. Setting Goals - Information on historic environmental conditions and natural variation is the first step to developing attainable and relevant goals for the future. Understanding how the region functioned before disturbance provides a framework for understanding what has been sustainable in the past under natural climatic variability. It is often difficult to distinguish between natural climatic variability and the effects of human activities. Ecosystem history can also provide clues as to the pitfalls of proceeding along certain paths in the future. Documentation of landscape change also helps scientists determine
Success Criteria - Selection of success criteria for restoration should be closely tied to goal setting. Commonly these are easily measured metrics that relate closely to societal goals, e.g., a healthy fishery, adequate water, etc. Success criteria are part of the monitoring strategy for achieving success for the restoration.
Ecosystem Processes and modeling - Effective predictive tools, either conceptual or mathematical, combine information on environmental conditions with understanding of the underlying processes that control the response of natural or stressed systems. Though modeling has made much progress in the last 20 years, predictive capability in multi-stressor systems, such as implications of interactions between dissolved organic carbon, contaminants and microbial communities for contaminant exposure; community level effects of contaminants and sediments; the roles of geology, geochemistry and land use change in shaping animal and plant communities; and natural and anthropogenic factors that alter resistance and resilience of different types of landscapes, lags behind the needs of society.
Scientific Issues - The Program seeks to improve the understanding of structure and function of ecosystems by examining the causes and interactions between ecosystem stresses and responses. These stressors can be the direct result of human activities such as competition for and utilization of water, land, energy, harvested species or other major resources, or an incidental result of other human activities, such as transportation, waste assimilation, and dumping of ballast water. Some problems, like climate change, are global in nature and are not amenable to local solutions, unless those solutions involve shifting goals to accommodate changing conditions. Others problems may be locally caused and remediated yet are present throughout the region or nation. For instance, the problems caused by water withdrawal in the Platte River are similar in many locations throughout the semiarid West.
These ultimate causes of environmental problems - climate change, competition for resources, waste assimilation, and incidental activities - are factors in a manageable list of stressors that focus the science on what is needed for restoration. Each of these causes can lead to disruptions of community dynamics, species imbalances, and ultimately threaten and endanger species viability. All are issues in PBS Study Areas. These issues are a part of the programmatic purview, as agents of ecosystem change. Each location has issues that are of major importance and others that are relevant but not major foci of the program (Table 1).
Table 1. Issues: Agents of Ecosystem Change
Ecosystem Services --Natural ecosystems benefit human societies in many ways. Ecosystems produce a diversity of goods, such as seafood, fodder, and timber, which represent an important part of the economy. In addition, natural ecosystems perform fundamental life-support services, such as purifying air and water, detoxifying and decomposing wastes, regulating climate, regenerating soil fertility, and producing and maintaining biodiversity. These functions are worth trillions of dollars annually to the agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial sectors. However, since most are not traded in economic markets they do not have prices that could signal changes in their supply. Economic development that destroys habitats and impairs services can create costs in the long term to humanity that may greatly exceed the short-term economic benefits attributed to such development. Today, growing impacts of human activities imperil the delivery of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services operate on such a grand scale and in such intricate and little-explored ways that most could not be replaced by technology. Scientific information will help society to understand how to balance sustaining ecosystem services and pursuing the worthy short-term goals of economic development.
Using sound science as a basis for informed planning decisions and resolution and prevention of resource-management problems requires that the scientific scope of the Place-Based Studies Program include all of these issues. In each place, a different combination of issues is important. All of the issues are represented in the program. The opportunity for providing science for restoration is present in areas where restoration has become an important focus of management. The selection of sites for the program is driven by the presence of restoration activities and the priority given to those activities at the Departmental level. Currently, activities are based in South Florida, San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Greater Yellowstone, Mojave Desert, Platte River, and Salton Sea (to be brought into the program as part of the budget restructure of FY 2000). If the USGS budget is augmented as requested in the President's FY 2000 budget, activities in the Great Lakes will begin. Many of the issues under investigation are also problems in other regions of the country, and the scientific acumen gained or approach successfully used in one study area is applicable to similar locations to those within the Program.
Program Direction and Evolution
Program Staging - In each study area, scientific activities follow a similar path. The primary components of ecosystem studies are problem definition, database development, measurement of important ecosystem attributes (such as flows, populations, elevation and stratigraphy) ecosystem history, process studies, modeling, and monitoring. Appendix A provides details on the planned activities in each study area.
Program Priorities for Each Study Area –(See Appendix A for timelines and Appendix B for GPRA documentation)
SOUTH FLORIDA STUDY AREA (Begun In FY 1995)
The USGS Place-Based Studies Program in South Florida The program encompasses data, ecological and hydrologic processes and models, information integration and synthesis, and tools to make scientific information available to Federal and State agencies and the public. Ecosystem and hydrologic models are used to evaluate the effects on species and habitats of restoration actions. Predictive capability of these models draws upon process studies and data from many disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas. Much of the research on hydrologic, cartographic and geologic, biological / ecological issues relevant to DOI's research role in South Florida ecosystem restoration reflects a strong collaborative program between the USGS and the NPS through DOI's Critical Ecosystems Studies Initiative (CESI).
USGS provides extensive scientific information to inform the restoration.
After FY 2001, several programmatic changes will take place in response to needs for science to support the evolving restoration. As the NPS Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative funds diminish there will be a gradual shift toward biological studies, especially studies related to contaminants. Studies that enhance our understanding of the linkages between biological and physical parameters will be emphasized.
Integration with other USGS ProgramsActivities in the South Florida are also supported by Hydrologic Research and Development, the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, the Federal-State Cooperative Water Program, the National Water Quality Assessment Program, the National Mapping Program- Geographic Research and Applications, Ground-Water Resources, Toxic Substances Hydrology, Water Data Collection and Management, and the Biological Research and Monitoring Program.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY STUDY AREA (Begun in FY 1995)
Initiated in FY 1995, the Program has supported research studies on flow dynamics, distribution and biological effects of contaminants, and sedimentary and population-level effects related to wetland restoration. Funding from the Program has allowed for the development of new tools and procedures to make existing and new information more widely available via the Internet. The FY 1999 restructuring of the San Francisco Bay- Delta study into two new integrated program elements will continue into FY 2003, with a possible decline in funding in the final year. The two projects address some of the key components of the mission of the CALFED (the major ecosystem management stakeholder group for the San Francisco Bay/Delta issues): to restore ecosystem health and improve water management for beneficial uses of the Bay-Delta system".
Integration with other USGS ProgramsActivities in the South Florida are also supported by the Hydrologic Research and Development, the National Mapping Program- Geographic Research and Applications, Water Data Collection and Management, Toxic Substances Hydrology, the Biological Research and Monitoring Program, the National Water Quality Assessment Program, the Federal-State Cooperative Water Program, The Coastal and Marine Program, the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, The National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other cooperating agencies.
CHESAPEAKE BAY STUDY AREA (Begun in FY 1996)
The objectives of the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem program are:
Integration with other USGS ProgramsActivities in the Chesapeake Bay are supported by the Hydrologic Research and Development, the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, the Federal-State Cooperative Water Program, the National Mapping Program- Geographic Research and Applications, the National Water Quality Assessment Program, Water Data Collection and Management, Ground-Water Resources, and the Biological Research and Monitoring Program.
STUDIES BEGUN IN FY 1998
Studies in Greater Yellowstone, Mojave Desert, and Platte River were at pilot stages in FY 1999. Augmented funding has been requested for FY 2000. The programs were designed to last approximately five years at the $1.5-2.0 million level, with efforts spread out over a longer time frame at lower funding levels. Current pilot funding levels are in the $500-$700K range for these studies.
MOJAVE DESERT STUDY AREA (Begun in FY 1998)
The Mojave Desert Ecosystem Science Program is an interdisciplinary study of vulnerability and recoverability of land to natural and human-induced disturbances characterized by soil compaction, wind or water erosion, or disruption of water flow. The ultimate goal is to provide a deeper understanding of arid-land ecosystems that helps land managers devise policies that allow human use of the desert while also protecting its vulnerable resources. It aims to accomplish this goal by studying selected sites in detail and extrapolating the attributes of those areas to the whole of the Mojave. The program provides direct assistance to land-management agencies in using these data and interpretations in geographic information systems (GIS). At the base level of funding, a model of vulnerability of lands in the Mojave Desert to wind erosion will be completed by the end of FY2004. This model will be demonstrated within the framework of a prototype decision support system that allows desert managers to forecast capability the anticipated consequences of alternative land use decisions by the end of FY 2005. The first soil compaction model will be refined to forecast plant coverage rates and speciation of recovering sites. These products will be measured on the basis of how well they meet the requirements for usage in land use decision making by desert managers and their staffs. Augmented funding in FY 2000, would allow the program to include formulation of a monitoring plan for the Mojave, incorporate a greater range of habitat types, include vertebrate response to roads, and move the date of completion from FY 2005 to FY 2004. Additional augmentation in FY 2001 would be used to ad invasive plants and vertebrate responses to urbanization and move up the completion date to FY 2003. Studies of the Mojave will have applicability to restoration activities in other arid-land ecosystems
Task DescriptionDuring FY98, the first year of study, investigations were begun at three sites with varying histories. During FY99 investigations were extended to the Nevada Test Site and to a transect through Joshua Trees National Park and 29 Palms Marine Corps Base. These studies will continue and be extended to include approximately 12-15 sites over the life of the program. If the program expands, remote sensing will be investigated for its potential to extend local landscape characterization to larger areas or to obtain specific variables (like soil particle size). Existing studies on ecosystem dynamics, fire history and ecology, invasive species, climatic variability, soil-moisture budgets, human population impacts, and similar topics affecting disturbance and recovery of desert lands will be examined, synthesized, and published as a series of review papers. Specific studies will be undertaken to examine biological and physical processes acting at the surface, including identifying thresholds of change controlled by these processes. The insights gained from these studies will form the scientific framework necessary to develop vulnerability and recoverability models for desert ecosystems. Multi-scale integration of data and methods for displaying vulnerability and recoverability indices and estimating error ranges will be critical components of the effort. The objective is to provide information to a decision support system that uses scientific findings from the program to help land managers look at ecosystem health yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Throughout the life of the program, data, interpretations, and models will be made available to desert land managers and other clients in an expeditious fashion. Important program findings will be interpreted and made available to the general public through both print and web publications to enhance popular understanding and appreciation of desert ecosystems and USGS science. Scientists will publish their results in the peer reviewed scientific literature and present their findings at appropriate conferences.
The Mojave project captures the spirit of the DMG and NPR by taking on the challenge of using the integrated scientific capabilities of the USGS to determine which desert lands are most vulnerable to disturbance, what the effects of that disturbance is likely to be on the biota, and what recovery rates are anticipated. The project works directly with the DMG Science and Data Management Team, which provides oversight of the project.
Integration with other USGS ProgramsHydrologic Research and Development, National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, Earth Surface Dynamics, National Mapping Program - Geographic Research and Applications, and the Biological Research and Monitoring Program support activities in the Mojave.
GREATER YELLOWSTONE STUDY AREA (Begun FY 1998)
The Greater Yellowstone Initiative (GYI) is designed to:
Augmentation of the GYI effort is needed in several areas. The development of the decision support system would be greatly enhanced with additional effort in the areas of database development, model construction, socioeconomics and fieldwork to supply information for wildlife habitat use. Models for additional species would allow better interpretation of the interaction among species and prediction of the effects of habitat modification on a more diverse group of species. Socioeconomic factors are an important driver of land use change and information on these factors will provide the foundation for predictive models.
Integration with other USGS ProgramsActivities in the Yellowstone are supported by the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, Geographic Research and Applications, the National Water Quality Assessment Program and the Biological Research and Monitoring Program. The Minerals Program has an ongoing study of mineralization processes in Yellowstone Lake.
PLATTE RIVER STUDY AREA (Begun in FY 1998)
The objectives of the USGS study are to:
The Platte River Program has been kept at the pilot level (many people making introductory efforts) because of lack of funds for several years. Additional field efforts are needed to improve sediment model reliability, to relate species habitat requirements to physical habitat attributes, and to improve understanding of the effects of restoration actions. These efforts will require an additional $1M to move beyond the pilot stage.
Integration with other USGS ProgramsActivities in the Platte River are supported by the Hydrologic Research and Development, the Energy Resources Program, Geographic Research and Applications, and the Biological Research and Monitoring Program.
SALTON SEA (Begun in FY 1999)
Additional efforts are needed to supply information on the physical and geochemical framework that biota depend on. Ultimately, this ecosystem should be brought to the $2M level. The first step towards that goal is the development and integration of geochemical components with existing biological components. ($400K)
Integration with other USGS ProgramsThe Biological Research and Monitoring Program support activities in the Salton Sea.
Opportunities for Interprogram Cooperative Efforts
The Program is currently at $15 Million with inputs from other programs within the USGS. However, PBS relies heavily on the resources and skills of single discipline programs in formulating interdisciplinary teams. Each discipline provides critical information that is used in managing an ecosystem. Geologic and paleontological information set the climatologic, morphologic and geochemical bounds for the ecosystem. Historical climatic variability drives fluctuations in the water regime, which affects such things as plant tolerances, nutrient dynamics, and geochemical processes. Geology and geomorphic processes control topography and landform, another essential element of climate. Geologic signatures can be found in the geochemistry of streams and terminal lakes, in soil type, sediment particle size and in the plants and animals that depend on them. Water distribution controls habitat for biota, and the geomorphology of river systems. It drives economic prosperity and powers the natural productivity of ecosystems. Biological responses are the critical endpoint for measuring success or failure of ecosystem restoration actions. They are critical to human wellbeing, economy and to our quality of life. Many endangered species, the trust responsibilities for the Department of the Interior, are central pillars of the resolve to restore and manage ecosystems. The diversity of disciplines demonstrates that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that by working with related information from several disciplines, scientists can improve their interpretation of their own data.
Personnel NeedsThe program requires scientific expertise in database management, construction of web pages, fish and wildlife ecology with expertise in each biome (marine, estuarine, riverine, lacustrine, terrestrial, montaine, grassland, wetland, desert, upland, tropical, eastern deciduous, etc) taxonomy, paleoecology (expertise in pollen, geochemical dating, stable isotope chemistry, invertebrates), cartography, remote sensing, geochemistry, ecology, sedimentary geology, structural geology, environmental toxicology, fate and transport of organic and inorganic chemicals, glacial geology, hydrology, water quality, water and sediment chemistry, and other disciplines within the USGS.
1Government Accounting Office.1994. Ecosystem Management, Additional Actions needed
to adequately test a promising approach. B256275 GAO/RCED-94-111. 87pp.
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Priority Ecosystem Science
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Last updated: 15 January, 2013 @ 12:43 PM (HSH)