Protective sustainability of ecosystems using Department of Energy buffer lands as a case study

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State and federal agencies are faced with protecting human health and the environment for a range of hazardous sites, including nuclear waste storage facilities. At some sites, nuclear materials must be stored for the foreseeable future because no technology currently exists for safe treatment and disposal. Using Department of Energy (DOE) lands as a case study, this article examines the meaning of protective sustainability for ecosystems and proposes a tiered approach to such protection with stakeholder participation during all phases. The approach includes: (1) governmental, institutional and public support to maintain the system, (2) agreement on the ecosystem to sustain, (3) agreement on the goods and services that the ecosystem should provide, (4) methods of monitoring the status of the ecosystem (usually involving bioindicators), (5) methods of evaluating the trends and changes within that system, and (6) methods of managing or restoring components of the ecosystem (response and corrective actions). The latter three steps are those normally considered for management and maintenance of healthy ecosystems, and figure prominently in natural resource damage assessment (NRDA). However, the former three are necessary components for sustainability. Regardless of technologies or technical expertise, the ecosystem will not be protected sustainably unless there is governmental, institutional, and public support for its protection, as well as consensus about the features of the ecosystem to be protected. While the selection of a preferred ecosystem at DOE sites will likely occur as part of remediation/restoration/NRDA, decisions about ecosystem services and human use on buffer lands can be revisited periodically. Monitoring is an integral part of evaluating continued health and safety of the ecosystem and its component parts, and such data should then be used to evaluate status and trends. These evaluations, however, will be most useful when they include hypothesis testing, tribal involvement stakeholder involvement, and comanagement among all the interested and affected parties. The tiered approach for ecosystem protection described here can be used for any ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1815-1823
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Part A: Current Issues
Issue number21
StatePublished - Jan 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology

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