provide the ecological services essential to human well-being–such services as assimilation of wastes, production of food, and provision of an aesthetically satisfying context for human interaction. Similarly, restoration of damaged ecosystems does not imply re-creation of pristine conditions that prevailed at some arbitrary time in the past; nor does it mean complete removal of the signs of human intervention into a natural system. It does imply the rebuilding of damaged ecological functions and depleted natural settings so that they regain the ability to deliver ecosystem amenities to human and nonhuman populations. Finally, it will be impossible to reconcile growing populations and expanding demand for natural resources and ecosystem services unless innovative solutions to myriad environmentally related problems can be found. Human aspirations for prosperity can be met, in the long run, only through sustainable use of the natural world. It is essential to find ways to manage our resources to achieve economic prosperity that are in harmony with the environment.
Research along those lines has long been conducted in various government, university, and private-sector laboratories. But the action flowing from the research typically has been fragmented in its application to environmental systems because there has been little recognition that humans were intervening in complex ecosystem processes whose response to human activity would often be surprising, indirect, and delayed and sometimes counterproductive. As that recognition has grown with environmental awareness and a deepening understanding of ecosystem behavior, it has become appropriate to revise how the federal government invests in research. The starting point of such a rethinking is to identify the social purposes that environmental research should enable us to pursue more effectively. Protection, restoration, and management of resources are goals that will be important to the United States for some time. The challenge of creating a relationship between people and the natural world that can be economically and ecologically sustainable demands re-examining the fundamental structures of industrialization–a deep, complex set of issues that can be addressed successfully only on a time scale of decades. The environmental and natural-resource problems that face the world and this nation clearly warrant an investment in research to find practical solutions to such needs as protecting, restoring, and managing our natural resources and to lend coherence to the investment while preserving the variety and creativity that have been essential to American leadership in science and technology.
The committee believes that environmental research that can produce essential data and can inform and support policy must have the characteristics discussed below. These characteristics are necessary, although not sufficient, if research is to lead to improved environmental outcomes. Implementation