Mapping the Future
Forecasting the future has been made easier for environmental planners thanks to new Web-based tools developed by EPA's Office of Research and Development.
The scientific tools from EPA's Regional Vulnerability Assessment (ReVA) program are making it possible to determine what the future of natural resources will look like under different scenarios of use. Building a highway may impact natural resources such as forests or wetlands differently than another use, for example.
Using maps from satellites and other existing spatial data, ReVA scientists identify the locations of environmental resources like forests or wetlands and the pollution or other stressors impacting them. The more resources and ecosystems they find in close proximity to stressors, the more vulnerable the site.
"We're looking at the places where the most ecological resources still exist in conjunction with pressures from development," explains ReVa Director Betsy Smith.
Smith's team then develops flexible, web-based toolkits that contain information about these resources and stressors. Using the toolkits, regional managers can combine this information in different ways to identify current problems. They also can create projections into the future to identify potential problems before they arise.
"The toolkits make it very easy for people to see which stressors and which resources they should keep an eye on," said Smith. "Identifying these vulnerable areas helps managers put their resources and funds where they are most needed" she adds.
In the mid-Atlantic states, EPA managers are using a ReVA toolkit to identify sensitive areas and to prioritize funding to protect those ecosystems. Policymakers in a 15-county region around Charlotte, N.C., are using a similar toolkit to evaluate the implications of their land use and development decisions.
ReVA toolkits will help environmental managers better balance their competing needs.