Before a packed room on Capitol Hill, the Heinz Center released “The State of Nation’s Ecosystems 2008.” The report provides an authoritative documentation of key environmental trends. Accompanying the release of the 250-plus page ecosystem report, the Heinz Center also issued a call for action. In “Environmental Information: A Road Map to the Future,” the Center calls for bold federal and state action to strengthen and integrate the nation’s environmental monitoring.

According to Robin O’Malley, director of the Heinz Center’s Environmental Reporting program, “…the acreage burned every year by wildfires is increasing, non-native fish have invaded nearly every watershed in the lower 48 states, and chemical contaminants are found in virtually all streams and most groundwater wells, often at levels above those set to protect human health or wildlife. In contrast, ecosystems are increasing their storage of carbon, there are improvements in soil quality and crop yields have grown significantly.”

The companion policy document, “Environmental Information,” notes critical gaps in environmental monitoring and various management challenges. “Environmental data gaps mean we don’t have the entire environmental picture. For example, we don’t track the area of sea grasses – important for every estuary, we don’t adequately measure the storage of carbon in ecosystems – important for future climate change, and we don’t track ground water levels – important for people and ecosystems,” said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center.

On the same day the Heinz Center released its reports, the White House issued a directive to Cabinet Secretaries and Administrators. In short, the directive from the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of Management and Budget states: “For many years, the Administration has supported a variety of efforts to develop national indicators of environmental and natural resource conditions. In 2006, we initiated a study with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to identify and assess institutional options for developing a national system of environmental indicators. The NAPA Panel of Fellows provided its report in December, 2007. The accompanying Policy Memorandum on National Environmental Status and Trends Indicators (NEST Indicators) sets forth an action plan for key Federal agencies and other partners that will take the next step to further develop our capacity for regular production of national environmental indicators.”

According to the directive, the environmental indicators are envisioned to be a set of high-quality, science-based, statistical measures of selected conditions of our environment and natural resources. To initiate the process, a pilot project has been announced. Federal agencies will work in collaboration with non-federal partners to develop status and trend indicators of water availability, including both quality and quantity.

 


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