Ecology, Environmental Impact Statements, and Ecological Risk Assessment: A Brief Historical Perspective
Ecological risk assessment will continue to increase in importance as a conceptual and methodological basis for evaluating environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Understanding the historical strengths and limitations of more traditional environmental assessments performed in support of the NEPA can facilitate the effective incorporation of ecological risk assessment into the NEPA process. Such integration will also benefit from a knowledge of the historical and continuing development of the ecological risk assessment process, as well as from a recognition of the contri butions from modern quantitative ecology and ecosystem science. Adopting a risk-based approach can improve the NEPA process by providing a framework for consistent and comprehensive ecological assessment and by providing a conceptual and methodological basis for addressing the varied uncertainties attendant to environmental assessments. The primary concern in integrating ecological risk assessment into the NEPA process is that ecological risk assessment not merely become a new name for traditional environmental impact assessments. While the integration of ecological risk assessment into the NEPA process occurs, it is important to begin to outline the next transition in environmental assessment capabilities. Operationally linking ecological risk assessment methods with formal decision models appears as a worthwhile objective in beginning this transition.