Moving beyond the ecosystem in ecosystem health report cards
Early ecosystem health report cards focused on assessing the health of natural ecosystems, producing a “snapshot” of ecosystem health at one point in time. Ecosystem health report cards are used to guide efforts that improve ecosystem health through natural resources manage- ment and stakeholder engagement. Common themes among Report Cards include water quality and quantity and habitat. These indicators are not strictly environmental concerns, though. They also impact, and are impacted by, human communities. For example, water quantity bridges natural and human resources: a minimum amount of water is needed to maintain ecosystem health, and humans rely on water for industries, for example agriculture. People impact the ecosystems in which they live, and it is important to assess their impacts on ecosystems, as well as assessing how an ecosystem functions to support these communities. This requires consideration of both indicators that bridge the natural and human world, and some that are considered strictly human-focused. These include infrastructure, employment, and nutrition/food availability. When combined with assessments of natural resources, the evaluation of human focused indicators and indicators that bridge the natural and human world provide a more complex and accurate view of system health. Using three case studies, this paper explores the importance of integrating economic, cultural, and social indicators into traditional ecosystem health report cards, the challenges such integration poses, and potential solutions.
Keywords: Indicators, ecosystem health assessments, report cards, environmental health assessments