Rense Heath Kelsey

Rense Heath Kelsey

Dr. Heath Kelsey is Program Director for the Integration and Application Network at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He has helped partner organizations develop ecosystem health report cards in the Mississippi River, Great Barrier Reef, Chesapeake Bay, India, and the Willamette River in Oregon, USA (a previous International River Prize winner). Dr. Kelsey has facilitated the evolution of the report card development process to encourage deep engagement of diverse stakeholder groups, and to include multiple management goals related to social, cultural, economic, and environmental indicators. This transdisciplinary process has increased the potential for positive change through shared visioning from users with different perspectives. Current projects include report cards in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA’s Coral Reef Monitoring Program in the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Florida Everglades.  Current collaborators include World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, US Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA.

The Lower Kafue River Basin Report Card

The Kafue River is a 1500 km river in Zambia with a catchment area of 150,000 km2. The Kafue contributes 12% of the flow of the Zambezi River. The Kafue Flats is a 6000 km2 Ramsar wetland in central Zambia, which is an important feature of the lower Kafue River, and is home to the endemic Kafue Lechwe. Flow in the Kafue River is controlled by the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam upstream and the Kafue Gorge Dam downstream. These two dams supply electricity to more than 50% of Zambia. The Kafue River is threatened by pollution, hydrologic modification, resource extraction and poaching. The 2017 Draft Kafue Management plan aims to reduce environmental degradation, maintain or improve economic development and livelihoods, and sustainable resource use.

The University of Maryland partnered with WWF Zambia to produce the first ecosystem health report card for the Lower Kafue River, which evaluates and communicates a holistic condition of the catchment, in through a series of ecologic, socio-economic, and cultural indicators. A key component of the report card process is an intense engagement process, where a broad cross-section of stakeholders meet to develop a shared understanding of the river basin, and a vision for its future. The report card indicators and narrative is a result of this engagement process. Indicators were evaluated by comparing data to objective targets, in a transparent process. The report card will serve as an ongoing mechanism to track progress to meeting management objectives. Additionally, the Zambia report card team has been trained to facilitate the co-development of report cards with stakeholders and hopes to export this process to nearby catchments in the Zambezi catchment.

Shared visioning for positive change through stakeholder engagement in an evolved ecosystem health report card development process.

Ecosystem health report cards have demonstrated their utility to increase awareness about environmental issues and problems. But in order to reach sustainable outcomes, assessments must include social, cultural, and economic considerations in addition to the environmentally-based measures traditionally included in ecosystem health assessments. A more holistic process is necessary to engage a broad range of diverse stakeholder groups and resource users. The process of developing ecosystem health report cards has evolved to focus encouraging deep engagement of diverse stakeholder groups, and to include a balanced suite indicators related to social, cultural, economic, and environmental management goals. These report cards are transparent, holistic, stakeholder driven, and transdisciplinary in nature. This type of process has increased the potential for positive change through development of a shared vision created by users with very different perspectives on resource use and services provided by ecosystem components. Examples from the Mississippi River, Orinoco River, and Coral Reef ecosystems will illustrate the value of developing a shared vision for future conditions based on these inclusive processes. Additionally, a key evolution of the report card process has been the inclusion of tools to evaluate outcomes under different management scenarios. This process is being implemented globally, through a partnership with World Wildlife Fund designed to empower regional teams to create their own ecosystem health report cards.

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