Funding for Everglades research should increase, National Research Council says

Dec. 24, 2002
A U.S. Department of the Interior research program has provided key information to help guide the ecological restoration effort in the Florida Everglades, but the program's current funding is inadequate, its management needs to be improved, and its findings should be more broadly disseminated, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 23, 2002 -- A U.S. Department of the Interior research program has provided key information to help guide the ecological restoration effort in the Florida Everglades, but the program's current funding is inadequate, its management needs to be improved, and its findings should be more broadly disseminated, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.

The panel that wrote the report noted that strategic investments in research should increase the likelihood of reaching the restoration effort's goals while reducing its overall cost.

The Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative, or CESI, was established by the Interior Department in 1997 to fill gaps in what is known about the environment of the Everglades. Managers of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan -- a multibillion dollar effort involving many federal and state agencies -- use this information to support planning and design decisions that affect land owned by the Interior Department.

The annual budget for CESI has fallen, however, from a high of $12 million in 1998 to its current level of just $4 million. Congress requested the Research Council study after concerns were raised about this drop in funding and its impact on the adequacy of the science being conducted.

"Funding for the science program has been inconsistent and is now far less than is needed to support Interior's interests and responsibilities for the restoration effort," said panel chair Linda Blum, research associate professor, department of environmental sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Congress should increase CESI funding provided that several management fixes are put in place first, the panel said. For example, CESI managers should widen the field of applicants for research grants by more broadly distributing calls for research proposals. They should also recruit more independent experts to review research proposals and findings.

New research could be conducted right away by CESI to meet some of the more pressing science needs of the restoration project, the panel added. This includes social-science and water-quality research, as well as further study of how changes in hydrology affect various species at the individual and population levels.

For the results of CESI science to prove useful, they must be synthesized and broadly disseminated to everyone involved in the restoration effort. However, the panel said that synthesis is notably lacking in CESI as well as in other Everglades science programs. CESI should improve its synthesis and dissemination, but because it is just one of several ongoing research programs that support the restoration project, a single overarching science entity is needed to make sure that all Everglades-related research is available to those who need it. This entity would also promote collaboration and provide scientific vision for the restoration effort.

CESI researchers must be more responsive to the compressed timetable of the restoration plan, the panel said. And restoration managers should evaluate the risks and benefits of adjusting their current project schedule in order to obtain answers to critical scientific questions.

The restoration plan already includes an organization, known as the RECOVER team, that communicates scientific results to the project planners and engineers. But steps need to be taken to ensure that a sufficient number of scientists, representing all involved agencies, participate in the process, the report notes. Congress should consider how to formalize a significant role for the Interior Department on RECOVER while maintaining the input of other restoration stakeholders, the panel said.

The study 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.

Copies of Science and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration: An Assessment of the Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative will be available early next year from the National Academies Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

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