Among the major goals of long-term ecological research is to increase our understanding of a wide array of ecosystems at multiple geographical and time scales, giving society the knowledge and capability to address complex environmental challenges. Key research findings by LTER scientists provide valuable information for federal agencies, land managers, and decision makers who want to develop responsible policies to deal with a rapidly changing world. The following examples show some of the ways in which LTER engages with policy professionals to address grand challenges in environmental stewardship.

Ecology meets Public Policy

Two LTER sites located in the northwestern United States, Harvard Forest and Hubbard Brook, have programs aimed at regional and federal lawmakers. 

Harvard Forest’s Science and Policy Integration Project is aimed at increasing the impact of long-term ecological research in environmental decision-making. The project addresses identified challenges in environmental stewardship through problem-oriented scientific synthesis, decision maker engagement, and science communications. It focuses on land use change and forest effects, energy, air and water pollution, and climate change and ecosystem services to help lawmakers understand the science behind these pressing issues.

Hubbard Brook’s Science Links” publication series seeks to bridge the gap between science and public policy by examining four specific atmospheric and water pollutants: acid rain, mercury, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.  Publications in the series present clear, accessible, and timely scientific information to lawmakers and other non-scientist audiences, and outline both the relevant policy questions and the likely consequences of various potential actions. 

Forest Management

Andrews Forest (Oregon) and Coweeta (Southern Appalachia) both work closely with the USDA Forest Service and other forest managers to apply lessons learned through long term ecological research to manage forest resources.  Andrews collaborates with forest managers to conduct research into the economic and environmental effects of various management options, and offers field tours and print and web publications for resource managers.  Coweeta offers workshops on fire ecology and road sedimentation, and also hosts a brown-bag speaker series that brings together a joint audience of scientists and resource managers.

Agricultural Ecosystems

Kellogg Biological Station (Michigan) studies the ecology of important U.S. row crops, and works closely with a range of agricultural professionals.  Kellogg’s research aims to help make farming more profitable without compromising environmental benefits.  The Station hosts professional development workshops and training sessions, and publishes fact sheets on soil, climate, native plants, and bioenergy for agricultural professionals.

Urban Ecosystems

Two LTER sites, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and Central Arizona-Phoenix, conduct research on urban ecosystems. Baltimore is an important member of two different partnerships: Revitalizing Baltimore is an alliance of seventeen different organizations working together to create a model program for community forestry and watershed restoration.  The Parks and People Foundation’s Urban Resources Initiative coordinates research and shares data with local, county, and state governments, natural resource managers, and community leaders engaged in managing and restoring Baltimore’s natural environment.

Similarly, the Central Arizona-Phoenix (CAP) LTER Program has a number of mechanisms for informing decision-makers and the wider community about our shared urban ecosystem.  Recognizing that many key decisions in cities are an accumulation of everyday decisions made at the parcel, or residence scale, CAP is involved with several citizen science initiatives, including a large shade tree monitoring project with the Salt River Project; a citizen science monitoring effort in the McDowell Mountain Preserve, which is generating data that are being directly incorporated into management plans for this large, popular, and growing urban park; and partnerships with the City of Scottsdale on storm water management issues, and with the City of Phoenix on the use of constructed wetlands to treat wastewater through several urban water research projects. CAP is also partnering with Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City (a National Science Foundation-funded center for Decision-Making Under Uncertainty) to enhance its outreach to and interactions with urban policy-makers.

Councils and Roundtables

Several LTER sites host or participate in regional councils, roundtables, and other forums that bring together a broad range of decision-makers and stakeholders.  For example, the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems is a key member of the Georgia Coastal Research Council (GCRC), which has 103 different affiliates.  The GCRC promotes science-based management of coastal resources by hosting workshops, assisting management agencies with scientific assessments, and distributing information on coastal issues.  The Council also provides technical summaries and other scientific guidance for policy decisions and monitoring programs.

Relevant Key Findings

The following articles introduce some of the key findings by LTER scientists that are directly relevant to decision making. The findings illuminate many complex environmental challenges and can help inform the decisions that go into finding solutions to pressing environmental problems. This section will continue adding such relevant key findings as they become available.