The scientific foundation describes our best current understanding of the biological realities that govern how the program’s vision will be accomplished. It is summarized in Return to the River and subsequent reports produced by the Independent Scientific Advisory Board. The Council is directed by Congress, through the Northwest Power Act, to use the best available scientific information in its decisions and to continually improve the program’s scientific understanding. The Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board is responsible for developing, reviewing, and recommending modifications to the principles. The ISAB recently recommended revised principles that focused on enhancing ecosystem resilience and adaptability.
The scientific foundation informs the program’s scientific principles, which summarize our current knowledge at a broad level. Program measures and actions should be consistent with those principles.
Guiding scientific principles
Healthy ecosystems sustain abundant, productive, and diverse plants and animals distributed over a wide area
An ecosystem includes all living things in a given area, interacting with each other and with the physical environment. This interaction affects the abundance, productivity, and diversity of plants and animals. Taking into account these interactions and the natural limits of ecosystems is critical for successfully maintaining, restoring, and enhancing ecosystems.
Biological diversity allows ecosystems to adapt to environmental changes
The natural diversity of species, populations, genes, and life history traits contributes to ecosystem stability and adaptability to environmental change. The loss of locally adapted populations can reduce species diversity in an ecosystem. Introducing non-native species can increase diversity but can also disturb the connections between native species and reduce their ability to adapt and survive. Management actions are most meaningful over the long term when they contribute to the diversity of locally adapted populations of native species and also to the habitats needed to support them.
Ecosystem conditions affect the well-being of all species including humans
Humans are integral parts of ecosystems. Our actions have a pervasive impact on the structure, function, and resilience of ecosystems, while at the same time, our health and well-being are tied to ecosystem conditions. Having ecosystems that can respond to change contributes to healthy ecosystems that support healthy species and human populations. A landscape perspective and management approach is necessary to maintain redundancies and diversity that allow ecosystems to be resilient to unexpected changes.
Cultural and biological diversity is the key to surviving changes
Ecosystems change over time, increasing or decreasing benefits to species, including humans. Biological diversity in species and their populations makes this adaptability possible. Similarly, the cultural diversity of people and communities represented by learned behaviors, ideas, values, and institutions allows for society to adapt to these changes.
Ecosystem management should be adaptive and experimental
Ecosystems are complex, they change constantly, and our understanding of them is limited. In response, natural resource managers must strive to improve their knowledge and be adaptable to include information as it is learned. Using a structured process of learning can contribute to new scientific knowledge that informs decisions.
Ecosystem management can only succeed by considering people
People live in ecosystems. Understanding what’s important to people about the places they live, sharing scientific information, developing communication networks, and creating partnerships that enhance collaboration can make management actions more sustainable. Aligning policies with the appropriate level of governance can also improve effectiveness. Recognizing that local actions can affect socioeconomic outcomes at regional, national, or international scales will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of management actions.