biofuels. The EPA has issued a Sustainability Research Strategy1 (1) to improve understanding of the earth’s natural and manmade systems, (2) to assess threats to these systems, (3) to design and apply cost effective industrial processes and (4) to develop and apply new technologies and decision support tools. The EPA is also beginning the development of a strategy for sustainable biofuels. The Forest Service is now using the concept of ecosystem services as a framework for describing the benefits of forests, for evaluating the effects of policy and management decisions and for advocating the use of economic incentives to protect private forest lands from development. Both the USDA and the National Science Foundation currently have sustainability councils to help guide R&D decisions. The USDA Council on Sustainable Development includes representatives from all the mission agencies and is focused on policies and programs supporting sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, and sustainable rural communities.
While many of the workshop discussions focused on research gaps, participants emphasized that there is much we already know especially regarding the natural sciences associated with ecosystem services and biofuels. The most significant gaps are in understanding the associated social, economic, political, and behavioral issues. Some specific research questions are listed below:
Is it possible to more clearly identify the effects of changes in ecosystem conditions on communities and vulnerable people?
What are the implications of expanded U.S. ethanol production for changes in habitat and biodiversity?
What are the economic and social impacts of biofuel production on rural communities and states?
Are available indicators matched with needs of local resource managers? Many participants noted the importance of developing indicators and metrics to evaluate programs, to track changes in ecosystem conditions, to assess pressures and drivers, to warn of potential vulnerabilities and “tipping points.”
How can the concept of ecosystem services be made “real”? Participants acknowledged that efforts to value ecosystem services were helpful but suggested that better information was needed to educate stakeholders about the functions of ecosystem processes and services and the benefits and costs associated with human interactions.
EPA’s Sustainability Research Strategy, Foreword, Accessed on 3/19/08, http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/pdfs/EPA-12057_SRS_R4-1.pdf