Investigating habitat value to inform contaminant remediation options: approach
Habitat valuation methods are most often developed and used to prioritize candidate lands for conservation. In this study the intent of habitat valuation was to inform the decision-making process for remediation of chemical contaminants on specific lands or surface water bodies. Methods were developed to summarize dimensions of habitat value for six representative aquatic and terrestrial contaminated sites at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) on the US Department of Energy Oak Ridge Reservation in Oak Ridge, TN, USA. Several general valuation metrics were developed for three broad categories: site use by groups of organisms, site rarity, and use value added from spatial context. Examples of use value metrics are taxa richness, a direct measure of number of species that inhabit an area, complexity of habitat structure, an indirect measure of potential number of species that may use the area, and land use designation, a measure of the length of time that the area will be available for use. Measures of rarity included presence of rare species or communities. Examples of metrics for habitat use value added from spatial context included similarity or complementarity of neighboring habitat patches and presence of habitat corridors. More specific metrics were developed for groups of organisms in contaminated streams, ponds, and terrestrial ecosystems. For each of these metrics, cutoff values for high, medium, and low habitat value were suggested, based on available information on distributions of organisms and landscape features, as well as habitat use information. A companion paper describes the implementation of these habitat valuation metrics and scoring criteria in the remedial investigation for ETTP.