Priorities for Ecological Protection: An Initial List and Discussion Document for U.S. EPA

EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment. Although there is general consensus on the human health endpoints of concern, there is far less agreement on the corresponding endpoints for protecting the environment. Decision makers in EPA have sought guidance on specifically what resources to protect and how they and the public can become more involved in the ecological risk assessment and decision making process. With this document, we hope to stimulate Agencywide discussion on which ecological entities should be considered priorities for protection. We also propose a process by which decision makers can set specific ecological objectives to guide both assessment and action.

Our work group reviewed current trends in ecological protection, and found a pattern of longer-term objectives and increasing complexity of temporal and spatial scales. We also identified eight ecological entities of widespread concern and propose them as a list of common entities. We believe that such a list has many advantages, and hope that our recommendations will lead to agreement on how to focus the Agency's efforts. The list can help turn the general goals provided by EPA laws into concrete, specific objectives that can guide assessments and actions. Above all, we hope that Agency decision makers will use this document and share their experiences with others. Only by learning from experience can we develop a useful and sound approach to protection of valued ecological entities.