Everglades Foundation scientists Dr. Stephen Davis, Wetland Ecologist and Aida Arik, Ecological Engineer, attended the National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration (NCER) in Schaumburg, Illinois—just west of Chicago.
Davis and Arik presented papers on the role of science in developing the plan for Central Everglades restoration and the need for restoring the heart of the Everglades ecosystem, respectively. The meeting was attended by numerous ecologists, engineers, and practitioners of ecosystem restoration throughout the world and included several keynote speeches focusing on restoration of the Great Lakes—a region facing many of the same issues (e.g., water pollution, invasive species, etc.) as the Everglades.
In his presentation, Dr. Davis spoke about the advancement of modeling tools and the increased understanding of the Everglades ecosystem since the passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) in 2000.
“Since 2000, we have witnessed the effects of hurricanes, drought, and even cold snaps—not to mention establishment of exotic species such as the Burmese python—providing us with an improved understanding of how the system responds to these impacts,” said Davis. “Added to this, we have greatly improved our analytical tool set that allows us to simulate and screen for ecological benefits of different restoration scenarios more efficiently.”
According to Dr. Davis, the knowledge gained over the past decade has greatly facilitated the expedited Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), allowing project planners to formulate an alternative that, when implemented, will bring significant and immediate benefits to an area spanning the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries all the way down to Florida Bay.
Arik spoke of the broader implications of the CEPP planning process. “CEPP is critical to South Florida and Everglades National Park—it is the first regional project aimed at restoring the core of the Everglades ecosystem, with significant system-wide benefits,” she adds, “but CEPP also represents a paradigm shift in ecosystem restoration planning beyond South Florida.”
Ms. Arik elaborated on three main elements that have made the CEPP planning process distinct: an expedited timeframe with set deadlines, a regional footprint with significant near term benefits, and public stakeholder engagement throughout the process.
CEPP is a pilot planning process launched by the US Army Corps of Engineers in October 2011, a model that will be used nationwide on restoration projects moving forward.
The conference began and ended with similar messages. Rachel Jacobson, acting Assistant Secretary for Fish & Wildlife and Parks in the U.S. Department of Interior, kicked off the conference with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
Assistant Secretary Jacobson emphasized the need to value ecosystems for the services they provide. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder capped the meeting with a moving speech on the need to adopt an ecosystem perspective at the political level, acknowledging that our ecosystems are directly connected to our activities in the landscape and that the health of our economic system is directly tied to the health of our ecological systems.