A Tool for Sustainability: Measuring Outcomes with Indicators of Ecosystem Health

EPA Grant Number: SU831865
Title: A Tool for Sustainability: Measuring Outcomes with Indicators of Ecosystem Health
Investigators: Sisk, Thomas D. , Muñoz-Erickson, Tischa A. , Loeser, Matthew R. , Aguilar-González, Bernardo , Bayha, Jeff
Current Investigators: Sisk, Thomas D. , Muñoz-Erickson, Tischa A. , Loeser, Matthew R. , Richey, Amy , Aguilar-González, Bernardo
Institution: Northern Arizona University , Prescott College
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2004 through May 1, 2005
Project Amount: $9,320
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Ecosystems , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Management of arid rangelands for sustainability has emerged as a high public priority, but the decision-making process is often paralyzed by conflicting stakeholder demands. With increasing frequency, collaborative management efforts are being launched in the form of community-based groups and partnerships to overcome stakeholder disagreement. Fundamental to the success of these management teams, and ecosystem management itself, is a robust tool that integrates scientific and technical information to measure sustainability. Once applied, such a tool could objectively assess management actions and rangeland condition, thereby settling the most contentious issues of rangeland management. Based on a focal area of 400,000 acres of mixed-ownership rangeland, we have developed an integrated framework (Holistic Ecosystem Health Indicator - HEHI) as a methodological tool to assess, evaluate, and monitor rangeland health based on ecological and economic sustainability goals. Through the use of a range of indicators, this framework integrates multiple ecological and sociological criteria to quantify their responses through time. The current HEHI framework is comprised of 54 core indicators: 21 for the ecological branch; 12 for the social branch; and 21 for the interactive branch. Categories for the ecological branch include: vegetation, watershed, soil quality, primary productivity, and wildlife. Categories for the social branch include: economic stability, demographics, income, and community strength and well-being. Categories for the interactive branch include: collaborative process outcomes, land use practices, awareness and public attitudes, land distribution, and implementation of regulation. This proposal identifies three key needs for successful implementation of the framework: 1) refinement of the HEHI framework through stakeholder input, 2) testing of protocols for measuring the 54 core indicators, and 3) training workshops for stakeholders. The first two goals will be accomplished through facilitated meetings with stakeholders and subsequent on-the-ground testing of the indicators by researchers and stakeholders. The final goal will be achieved through training-workshops led by the research team. These workshops will target representatives of all key stakeholder groups, including land management agencies, ranchers, and environmentalists, as well as educators. This approach has the added benefit of helping to expand capacity for effective collaboration among stakeholders and agencies by making information transparent, facilitating communication, and increasing mutual learning. Once implemented, the HEHI framework will serve as a rubric for management actions, clearly elucidating the components of a sustainable rangeland ecosystem. In this sense, the HEHI framework has wide implications for institutionalizing concepts of sustainability in a way that is practical for improving the lives of people, their prosperity, and the planet.

Supplemental Keywords:

ecosystem, indicators, integrated assessment, decision making, monitoring, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Monitoring, Ecology and Ecosystems, Urban and Regional Planning, arid rangeland, decision making, environmental sustainability, community based, ecosystem indicators, computer generated alternatives, ecosystem assessment tool, environmental education

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report