Critical loads are a potentially important tool for protecting ecosystems from atmospheric deposition and for promoting recovery. Exceeding critical loads for nitrogen and sulfur can cause ecosystem acidification, nitrogen saturation, and biotic community changes. Critical loads are widely used to set policy for resource protection in Europe and Canada, yet the United States has no similar national strategy. We believe that ecosystem science and resource protection policies are sufficiently advanced in the United States to establish critical loads for federal lands. Communication and interaction between federal area managers and scientists will ensure that critical loads are useful for assessing ecosystem conditions, influencing land management decisions, and informing the public about the status of natural resources. Critical loads may also be used to inform air pollution policy in the United States, regardless of whether critical loads are directly linked to air quality regulations and emissions reductions agreements, as they are in Europe.
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