Defining and Assessing Adverse Environmental Impact Symposium, 2001View this Special Issue
Scientific and Societal Considerations in Selecting Assessment Endpoints for Environmental Decision Making
It is sometimes argued that, from an ecological point of view, population-, community-, and ecosystem-level endpoints are more relevant than individual-level endpoints for assessing the risks posed by human activities to the sustainability of natural resources. Yet society values amenities provided by natural resources that are not necessarily evaluated or protected by assessment tools that focus on higher levels of biological organization. For example, human-caused stressors can adversely affect recreational opportunities that are valued by society even in the absence of detectable population-level reductions in biota. If protective measures are not initiated until effects at higher levels of biological organization are apparent, natural resources that are ecologically important or highly valued by the public may not be adequately protected. Thus, environmental decision makers should consider both scientific and societal factors in selecting endpoints for ecological risk assessments. At the same time, it is important to clearly distinguish the role of scientists, which is to evaluate ecological effects, from the role of policy makers, which is to determine how to address the uncertainty in scientific assessment in making environmental decisions and to judge what effects are adverse based on societal values and policy goals.