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Volume 2 (2002), Pages 12-20
Research Article

Scientific and Societal Considerations in Selecting Assessment Endpoints for Environmental Decision Making

1Stratus Inc, Boulder, CO 80306-4059, USA
2Tetra Tech Inc., 10045 Red Run Blvd., Suite 110, Owings Mills, MD 21117, USA

Received 15 November 2001; Revised 6 February 2002; Accepted 13 February 2002

Academic Editor: Joe Wisniewski

Copyright © 2002 Elizabeth M. Strange et al.


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.