Comments on: What Is a Healthy Ecosystem? The EPA Blog Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:58:31 +0000 hourly 1 By: unknown Mon, 11 Nov 2013 22:21:17 +0000 you did not answer the question the answer is a healthy ecosystem needs living and nonliving things in it. I get ur a scientist and all but I don’t think ur answer really helped anyone asking the question

By: Invest in Healthy Ecosystems | The Official Blog of the UNA-GB Thu, 25 Aug 2011 15:08:05 +0000 a new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partners announced that investing in healthy ecosystems could improve food security, enhance resilience to climate change, as well as provide economic

By: Bob Vadas, Jr. Wed, 31 Mar 2010 18:00:48 +0000 After listening to Lackey’s 2010 telephone interview that further knocks normative science, I have to disagree when he says that scientists shouldn’t judge whether the increasing human-population growth is “bad”. We certainly know that it’ll make salmon restoration that much tougher, not to mention the sundry other environmental and social problems that come with increasing urbanization like traffic, smog, greenhouse gases, violent crime, communicable diseases, etc. Hence, Lackey’s prescription is much like religion, i.e., thou shalt not do this or else you’ll get judged harshly. I also disagree with Lackey that normative science is a big reason that the public distrusts scientists; rather, we’re often the messengers that bring bad news to conservative, religious people who don’t want to believe in evolution or global warming. Scientists need to think and act positively to achieve environmental benefits, not engage in self-loathing from the ivory tower.

By: Diana Kuest Fri, 08 May 2009 19:49:22 +0000 Science and the good practice of it, is the “rudder” that steers the ship of good life and living for all concerned on this earth. I would hope that this science practice is given to the schools of our country along with willing information and education to all classrooms. Each year that it is not a part of good practice, is a year that is lost to our youth. I hope that information and education is ongoing and a committment from every agency that has taken the responsibility of this awareness.

By: Bob Vadas, Jr. Mon, 08 Sep 2008 20:23:45 +0000 Let me add further information from my past discussions with Bob Lackey.

When I argue for restoring natural conditions, I do so using the argument that sustainability will be enhanced (i.e., less dependence on hatchery stocking), with the added hope that we may bring coho back into the interior-Columbia River drainage so that it can spawn in the wild again (as in now happening in several tributaries). Restoring riparian and flow conditions should increase these odds, particularly because coho and other salmonids like off-channel habitats that often get destroyed by humans. I’m not uncomfortable with stating this as a desirable management objective for achieving federal-ESA requirements.

Even after reading Bob’s ‘BioScience’ paper on ecosystem health, I’m still not totally clear on the best way to avoid misuse of ecosystem issues in policy discussions, especially given the explicitness of federal-ESA requirements for the work that I now do. This is pragmatic restoration at a biological scale well below the erudite ecosystem level, but with potential ecosystem implications (e.g., nutrient restoration via coho carcasses). To suggest that coho restoration isn’t desirable unless the public approves it (as implied in is too relativistic for me; we may need to help convince them via education.

By: Bob Vadas, Jr. Thu, 04 Sep 2008 19:30:19 +0000 Below is a revised version of relevant discussions that I’ve previously had with Bob Lackey.

Indeed, his publications and the above discussion collectively make the point about keeping the analytical focus below the ecosystem level. Indeed, I like the IBI (index of biotic integrity) focus on assemblages and smaller biological scales, so environmental management at larger scales (but perhaps below the ecosystem level) seems reasonable. At least biodiversity is now treated more carefully by IBI analyses, in that overly low or high alpha (local) biodiversity (the latter via exotic invasions) is considered to be a red flag for biotic-integrity problems. Low beta (across-site) diversity, however, is likely indicative of biological homogenization, as exotic species come to dominate different locations with different native-fish assemblages.

Hence, although I agree that ‘ecosystem health’ is a dubious concept, I would resolve the issue by focusing on biotic (ecosystem) integrity as IBI researchers have done. I don’t think it’s wrong to use natural ecosystems as benchmarks for restoration, because human impacts can best be measured by examining deviations away from natural conditions (as measured by genetic, population, assemblage, community, and/or ecosystem-level parameters). That does involve good science. And although I have my reservations about implementation of the IBI, I think that Jim Karr and colleagues have made a strong case that this type of biomonitoring approach is a useful way to proceed. I do work with several watershed groups that are interested in seeing things restored towards more-natural conditions, so such an approach is both ecology- and policy-relevant. Such ecosystems are often more ecologically sustainable, given that hatchery- and agriculturally based ecosystems require much human impact to maintain. Not interfering with evolutionary processes makes sense, given Aldo Leopold’s emphasis on saving all parts of the natural ecosystem to maintain it. But I agree that normative science involves value judgments in defining ecological baselines, such that scientists enter the policy arena (as they should be encouraged to do) when they focus on ecosystem health and consider degraded habitats with exotic-species invasions and reduced native biodiversity to be undesirable.

By: Kim Mattson Wed, 20 Aug 2008 04:58:04 +0000 To address the question of what is a healthy ecosystem, I think it is useful to review the terms ecosystem and even health. Ecosystems seem to be commonly misunderstood. Ecosystems according to how the term has been used by the Odum’s and other ecosystems ecologists can be best thought of as an abstract notion we humans have invented. It represents a notion that nature is organized into energy flow and nutrient cycles leading to trophic structures, populations and ultimately a place where life exists. To the layman, ecosystems are most often (mistakenly) synonymous with nature or landscapes. When in fact, nature or the landscape is better thought of as the “result” of the ecosystem properties. A city is also an abstract notion–it has invisible boundaries, and a set of rules that control how people behave and how cities are constructed. We can see the buildings are built in certain way due to building codes and traffic flows on streets as a result of traffic ordinances and so on. So is nature constructed and organized along what we see as ecosystem principles.

About health… It makes sense to say a population that is declining in numbers might be less healthy. It really doesn’t make as much sense to say an ecosystem is unhealthy because a population is in decline. The change in the population is likely the result of some change in the ecosystem property (increase in competitor, decrease in resource availability…). Almost always a decline in one population results in an increase in another population. In a case where this doesn’t happen, such as a toxic chemical spill, perhaps one could say the ecosystem is less healthy. But even still in these cases, such as what happened in the Upper Sacramento River over ten years ago, the system typically recovers and populations can even exceed those of the pre-spill years.

Here are a few measures of what undisturbed ecosystems seem to tend toward: high species diversity, ability to resist population changes, ability to recover from population changes, accumulation of both living and non-living organic matter, and the ability to retain moisture. All of these will act as buffers to resist change and therefore create greater stability. Are these the characteristics that humans might associate with health? I suppose so…most humans are taught to fear change…and rightly so as it could mean their own decline.

By: Hal Michael Fri, 15 Aug 2008 05:00:31 +0000 One of the serious problems I see is when agencies, organizations, policy people stifiling meaningful scientific and policy debate. Once an entity determines its direction and sets the “message” it seems to become more difficult to bring in a differing view. The message becomes the “science”. It also seems that we create quasi-religions about old-growth forests, wild fish, and so on without ever having a discussion about the consequences of those choices. What must be given up to have ….fish, trees, lumber, food, water, wolves?

As a scientist, I have a personal desire to see some fully functional ecosystems supported by spawning salmon. As a member of society, I want to see a fully informed debate, where the science, the economics, and values can be debated.

As has been said above, the ecosystem IS. What it is allowed to be is what society decides. We need a more open debate.

By: D White Mon, 28 Apr 2008 23:25:37 +0000 What is a scientist, a policy-maker, a member of society? Sometimes one person can be all three. And sometimes it seems like “society” as the polity that makes decisions in a democracy is actually a rather small subset of the population.

Is the conduct of science totally incompatible with making decisions for environmental managment? One argument is that when science is mixed with the judgments involved in decision-making then science is weakened because scientists may be perceived as partisan advocates rather than objective observers. But everything that science studies reflects human values and interests. And all facts of science have an origin in human values and, in turn, values reflect how humans observe the world.

Does a scientist have a duty to society to advocate a position when they believe, based on their scientific knowledge, that not advocating that position can result in harm? To make too sharp a distinction between what a scientist does and what society does can limit potentially valuable and important debate.

If a scientist does advocate a position, it is certainly reasonable to ask for value judgments to be made explicit, for positions to be subjected to scientific and public debate, for uncertainties in knowledge to be admitted, and for consequences of advocated positions to be assessed.

By: Bob Lackey Sat, 26 Apr 2008 02:45:06 +0000 OK, here is a brief elaboration on my thoughts about normative science and its use — and misuse — by scientists (and others) in influencing public policy.

Effectively solving any of the major ecological policy issues facing society today requires providing an array of scientific information to decision makers. The ability of scientists (and scientific information) to inform constructively ecological policy deliberations is diminished when what is offered as “science” is inculcated with policy preferences (the definition of normative science).

As with all human activity, the scientific enterprise is not free of values, but values reflected in subtle form as policy preferences should not be permitted to prejudice scientific information. Scientific information becomes “normative” when it contains tacit policy preferences and thus, by extension, promotes particular policy options. There are many examples (ecosystem health, degradation, biological integrity) of normative science confusing the development of sound ecological policy when it operates under the guise of policy neutral science. With its disguised value and preference characteristics, normative science provides little substantive help in reconciling the most divisive elements of ecological policy.

In my opinion, scientists should play the important role of informing policy discussions with unbiased, understandable scientific information, assessments, and forecasts. To develop sound policy, science is important, helpful, perhaps even essential, but involvement with policy issues by a naive scientist or scientific organization can lead to loss of credibility and perceived independence unless the proper roles of both science and policy are understood and followed.

Scientific information is central to the successful resolution of important, divisive, and controversial ecological issues. When providing scientific information to the public and decision makers, scientists should play the proper role — the appropriate role — but know and announce when they have stepped out of a scientific role and into the role of political advocate, however subtle that advocacy may be.