Charter for the
National Environmental Research Parks1
A National Environmental Research Park is an outdoor
laboratory where research may be carried out to achieve national
environmental goals, as articulated by the National Environmental Policy
Act (NEPA), the Energy Reorganization Act, the Department of Energy
Organization Act, and the Nonnuclear Energy Research and Development
Act. NEPA translated the public concern for a quality environment into
environmental goals, and the National Environmental Research Parks
network will provide land to help the Nation comply with the spirit of
NEPA. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 mandates the Agency to
engage in environmental research related to the development of energy
sources so as to advance the goals of restoring, protecting, and
enhancing environmental quality. The National Environmental Research
Parks are actually field laboratories set aside for ecological
research, for study of the environmental impacts of energy developments,
and for informing the public of the environmental and land-use options
open to them.
Because public access to DOE land is limited,
environmental research projects can be carried out with a minimum of
interference. Any land outside Restricted Areas may be made available by
the field manager for study under site-use procedures. Some natural
areas should be protected from all manipulations for definite or
indefinite periods of time in order to serve as controls. While
execution of the program missions of DOE sites must be ensured, ongoing
environmental research projects and protected natural areas must be
given careful consideration in any site-use decisions. Where
appropriate, research parks may be established with other governmental
agencies in interagency agreements.
A wide range of research and demonstration programs will
be necessary to systematically address the environmental impacts of
human activities. Research parks are not simply sites to conduct
research, but have environmental research programs planned to address
these general objectives: (1) to develop methods to quantitatively and
continuously assess and monitor the environmental impact of human
activities, (2) to develop methods to estimate or predict the
environmental response to proposed and ongoing activities, and (3) to
demonstrate the impact of various activities on the environment and
evaluate methods to minimize adverse impacts.
Research park programs will be unique at every site,
varying in the ecological and energy-related problems addressed and in
the participation of researchers who are not funded by the Department.
The network of research parks was formally established
with an insightful statement of objectives organized in three broad
- Assessment and Monitoring--develop methods to
quantitatively and continuously assess and monitor the environmental
impact of human activities.
- Prediction--develop methods to estimate or predict
environmental responses to these activities.
- Demonstration--demonstrate the effects these
activities have on the environment and evaluate methods to minimize any
Assessment and Monitoring
- Compile a regional environmental encyclopedia,
including species lists, characterization of ecosystems, successional
stages, and maps of the vegetation, soils, hydrology, etc. Species
characterizations should include population levels, life histories, and
the sensitivity to environmental stresses in terms of behavior,
physiology, genetics, reproduction, and productivity. Special attention
should be given to endangered and threatened species.
- Set aside and characterize research reference areas.
To assess the environmental effects of site activities and ecosystem
change brought about by stresses, certain minimal representative and/or
unique natural areas must be left undisturbed.
- Establish field and laboratory repositories.
Reference areas should be set aside to server as gene reservoirs for
organisms common to the region and to allow a wide range of genetic
diversity to be retained. Genetic diversity is a natural defense against
the vulnerability to epidemics that tend to develop in plants and
animals intensively selected for yield or utility. Sites representing
the "regional" deposition of air- or water-borne pollutants, not
subject to ground-level redistribution, should be preserved and
protected from contamination.
- Serve as environmental data centers and ultimately as
regional environmental clinics for a particular ecoregion of the United
States. As data storage and retrieval systems are developed and each
park inserts strong cadres of researchers, DOE has the capacity to
establish data centers for regional information, retrieval, assessment,
- Supply basic data so that national environmental
decisions, standards, and monitoring programs can be developed using a
firm ecological base. A regional monitoring network should be
established and operated so that ecosystem responses can be continually
monitored and evaluated with full meteorological information.
- Development and improve ecosystem analysis
techniques. Current techniques for conducting ecological surveys,
inventorying populations, and measuring ecosystem responses to stresses
should be tested and improved upon. Techniques should be developed to
assess the general health of ecosystems relative to energy flow,
materials cycling, species diversity, community structure, and
- Manipulate ecosystems in carefully designed
experiments by applying various environmental stresses, then assessing
the ecosystem responses.
- Participate in international environmental programs
to contribute to the assessment of human effects on the global
environment and to cooperate in improving environmental quality.
- Develop mathematical models simulating ecosystems to
predict organism response to environmental stimuli, organize knowledge
about the system, and select research priorities. The flow of energy,
population dynamics, and the cycling of water and nutrients should be
included in these models. The accuracy and geographical transferability
of these models should be validated.
- Identify organisms, organ systems, and ecosystem
components that can serve as indicators of environmental quality.
- Develop techniques to predict the ultimate location
and deposition of specific pollutants, particularly those techniques
allowing estimates of organism effects when full life history and
physiological characterizations are not known.
- Study the interactions of pollutants and
environmental conditions. Synergistic effects may be unlike suspected
effects of single pollutants, consequently predictions of ecosystem and
organism responses to pollutants depend on the interactive effects.
- Study the pathways and sinks of pollutants in the
environment and their spheres of influence. Predicting the ecosystem and
organism response to a pollutant entering the environment necessitates
determining the ultimate disposition of the pollutant and any organism
or ecosystem components that it affects.
- Serve as a site for successional studies.
Environmental insults such as fire, logging, radiation, and thermal
effluents continue to affect the environment over time. The rates of
secondary succession and/or recovery from such events should be
evaluated and used as a basis for determining the optimal rate of
- Serve as a public demonstration area where citizens
and specialists can observe long-term effects of specific factors and
the true costs of alternate options for waste management or other land
uses. Where feasible, research parks should offer an extension service
to community groups, providing lectures, tours, and a visitors' center.
- Capitalize upon the ecologists at the research parks
and develop a core curriculum training program outside or in conjunction
with a neighboring university.
- Demonstrate alternate uses of land. Techniques should
be developed for translating ecological costs of energy-related
activities into economic costs.
1The Charter and Directives for the DOE NERPs were prepared in 1976.