Evolution of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study

Since 1997, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) has enjoyed the support of the Long-Term Ecological Research Program of the Division of Environmental Biology of the US National Science Foundation. That support is coming to an end, but the Baltimore Ecosystem Study will live on, due to the desire of key partners who have been joined together for 20 years to increase the understanding of Baltimore as a social-ecological system, and to improve its livability, sustainability, and equitability.
The support of the LTER program has been instrumental in helping BES establish a mission devoted to four major goals: 1) Pursue excellence in social-ecological research in an urban system; 2) Maintain positive engagement with communities, environmental institutions, and government agencies; 3) Educate and inform the public, students, and organizations that have need of scientific knowledge; and 4) Assemble and nurture a diverse and inclusive community of researchers, educators, and participants.
Nothing speaks to the future better than BES education.
Although the NSF’s LTER support has been crucial in bringing BES to its current maturity, the contributions of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study are too important to urban ecological science, to the jurisdictions of metropolitan Baltimore, to the state of Maryland, and to federal resource management agencies and compacts, to allow the effort to falter.  Consequently, the partners and constituents of BES are reorganizing as a consortium to maintain their shared research and practical efforts, to seek additional sources of support, and to build on the unique foundation of over two decades of interaction and problem solving.
Over the coming months, key partners, including Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the USDA Forest Service, plan to work with leading non-governmental organizations, local and state  agencies to explore an inclusive governance structure and establish a complementary strategy for building an ongoing funding base for the project.
BES has established and maintained unique, long-term data on watershed function, the land cover of the urban region, the biological diversity and biological community structure of the metropolis, and the role of human decision making at household, community, and governmental levels as interacting controls on the development and change of the urban region.  
The integrated understanding generated by BES is crucial in moving the Baltimore region toward the more sustainable future that jurisdictions and communities so earnestly desire.  Resilience and equitability are important facets of the sustainability visions and plans that exist in the region.  The Baltimore Ecosystem Study is very well poised to help the Baltimore City, the five counties of the metropolitan area, and the larger Chesapeake region to design sustainability goals and to provide the scientific basis for evaluating progress toward meeting these goals.
BES — sometimes characterized as the “Baltimore School of Urban Ecology” — is a distinctive, integrative approach to contemporary urban ecology.  The approach provides a powerful platform to advance and apply scientific research, education, and community engagement. Indeed, BES is an acknowledged exemplar for such integration that has informed similar efforts around the world.
BES is adapting to a changing funding regime, but it is also working to remain at the forefront of social-ecological research and application.  The partners making up BES as a consortium are as committed as ever to making it an effective, ground-breaking exploration at the frontier of urban ecological science and application.
Steward Pickett and Emma Rosi