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Implications of global climate change for natural resource damage assessment, restoration, and rehabilitation



Various international and national regulations hold polluters liable for the cleanup of released hazardous substances and the restoration/rehabilitation of natural resources to preincident baseline conditions, a process often referred to as natural resource damage assessment and restoration (NRDAR). Here, we, the authors, describe how global climate change (GCC) will challenge each of the steps of NRDAR processes and offer eight recommendations to improve these processes in light of GCC. First, we call for a better understanding of the net effects of GCC and contaminants on natural resources. Second, we urge facilities and environmental managers to plan for GCC-related factors that are expected to increase the probability of contaminant releases. Third, we suggest re-evaluating definitions of baseline and reference conditions given that GCC will alter both their trajectories and variability. Fourth, we encourage long-term monitoring to improve the quantification of baseline conditions that will change as climate changes. This will enhance the accuracy of injury assessments, the effectiveness of restoration, and the detection of early warning signs that ecosystems are approaching tipping points. Fifth, in response to or anticipation of GCC, restoration projects may need to be conducted in areas distant from the site of injury or focused on functionally equivalent natural resources; thus, community involvement in NRDAR processes will be increasingly important. Sixth, we promote using NRDAR restoration projects as opportunities to mitigate GCC-related impacts. Seventh, we recommend adaptive management approaches to NRDAR processes and communication of successes and failures widely. Finally, we recommend focusing on managing the stressors that might be exacerbated by GCC, such as pollution and habitat loss, because there is a long history of successfully mitigating these stressors, which can be more easily managed on local scales than climate change. We believe that adoption of these recommendations will lead to a more efficacious NRDAR process, despite the challenges posed by climate change. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:93–101. © 2012 SETAC