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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska
community members to learn about the program’s intended goals and structure. To date, the committee has provided two written reports: a short letter report (November 2000) that comments on the program planning schedule and a more detailed interim report (February 2001) that critiques an early draft of the GEM program science plan (EVOSTC, 2001).
The Trustee Council is to be commended for its foresight in setting aside money over the years to create the trust fund that will provide long-term support to the GEM program. As envisioned, that program will offer an unparalleled opportunity to increase understanding of how large marine ecosystems in general, and Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska in particular, function and change over time. The committee believes that this program has the potential to make substantial contributions of importance to Alaska, the nation, and environmental science.
According to an early Trustee Council document, Restoration Update Winter 2000 (EVOSTC, 2000b), GEM was conceived to have three main components: long-term ecosystem monitoring (decades in duration); short-term focused research (one to several years in length); and ongoing community involvement, including use of traditional knowledge and local stewardship. The committee views this early simple vision of the program as a sound foundation upon which to build. In a later document (EVOSTC, 2000a), the purpose of the GEM program is further delineated to contain five program goals: detect, understand, predict, inform, and solve. The committee understands the general intent of these goals and the necessity of making the program responsive to both the needs of science and the needs of various agencies and the public. Nevertheless, as the committee discussed in its interim report, it remains concerned that these five goals are extremely diverse and far-reaching. While the GEM mission is a good general statement of intent, the committee remains concerned that such broad ambition exposes the program to the risk that it will be spread too thin to be effective.
This report reviews the planning document entitled “Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem and Monitoring Program” (NRC Draft), Volumes I and II, provided in September 2001 (EVOSTC, 2001). During the course of this study, the committee saw progress in a number of areas. For example, the committee believes that the GEM planners made a significant effort to include the interests of diverse stakeholders (the Trustee Council, scientists, various advisory groups) in the science plan. We are pleased to see that the planning process has caused an evolution in the draft and the thinking behind it. We commend GEM planners for not taking the easy route of simply picking stations and starting data collection, and for taking the time to think about the conceptual foundation and develop the hypotheses that are necessary to define data needs. Finally, we find that the conceptual foundation is much improved from earlier drafts and discus-