Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Guide for Natural Resource Managers 3rd Edition

8.5. Monitoring ecosystems and landscapes


Broadly defined, monitoring refers to repeated measurement over time to provide information about changing conditions. As noted previously, monitoring could provide an “early warning” of changing conditions that require management attention. Here we provide information on types of monitoring and guidance on design of monitoring landscapes and ecosystems that is consistent with common DoD practices. Monitoring is a key part of the adaptive management cycle, in which information is gathered to determine if management objectives are being advanced or whether management strategies and targets may need to be changed.

In the context of adaptive management, monitoring should always be linked to management goals and objectives. General guidelines from DoD and other land management agencies suggest that the design of a monitoring program first start with planned management strategies and targets. These may be informed by inventory and assessment, as described previously. For example, the first and last steps of guidance for establishing monitoring programs within the Bureau of Land Management include Step 1: “Develop management objectives…” and Step 12: “…use monitoring results to apply adaptive management.”

Although a monitoring program may apply many of the same techniques used in natural resource inventory and assessment, such as measurement of plant cover and density, monitoring is applied over time to detect and document change. Most effective monitoring programs are both directly tied to management issues and are designed to be sensitive to detecting change that is relevant to management.

Types of monitoring

Monitoring can be broken into types based on purpose. The two most common purposes include: 1) implementation monitoring, and; 2) effectiveness monitoring. Implementation monitoring answers questions like “did we do what we said we would do?” and is tied directly to planning documents that spell out where and when certain actions are to be taken. Effectiveness monitoring answers questions like “did the treatment have the effect that was intended?” It could be implemented over large areas and timeframes to document regional trends or at a local site to evaluate specific response to vegetation treatments. For our purposes here, we focus on effectiveness monitoring, but these same methods could apply to baseline, surveillance, or validation monitoring (Figure 8.8).

Figure 8.8 Monitoring design guidelines from Herrick et al. (2017) for use by the Bureau of Land Management.
Figure 8.8 Monitoring design guidelines from Herrick et al. (2017) for use by the Bureau of Land Management.

Baseline measurement establishes initial conditions or conditions that existed prior to anticipated change. In special cases where natural resource damages have occurred, the baseline is a description of conditions that would have existed had the damage (e.g., discharge of oil or release of the hazardous substance) not occurred. It documents the relevant attributes, such as vegetation, soils, wetland hydrology, that will be the focus of management. Once established, the practitioner can then review these conditions relative to management or restoration objectives for the site and determine if all or just a subset of measures might be addressed in monitoring.

Surveillance monitoring on DoD lands is addressed in part through the Land Condition Trend Analysis (LCTA) Program. LCTA sampling is designed to measure attributes that may trigger management action on a given installation.

Effectiveness monitoring may utilize selected LCTA samples to measure progress towards desired conditions as established in the restoration plan.

Validation monitoring is typically applied over long timeframes and sites and LCTAs to test assumptions about the causal relationships between the implementation of restoration practices and their outcomes.

Table 8.1 Several commonly used terms for different types of monitoring that one might encounter in natural resource management along with their brief description, management objective and example measurement.

Type Description Management Target/Action Example Measure
Baseline Establish initial conditions to compare with subsequent measurement. What is the current/initial level of invasive annual grass cover? Mean percent area of cheatgrass during peak green-up (from line transect or sample plot).
Surveillance Ongoing monitoring of ecological attributes that may trigger management action. If cover of invasive species exceeds 20%, implement control measures (herbicide application). Mean percent area of cheatgrass during peak green-up (from line transect or sample plot).
Effectiveness Measure progress towards desired conditions identified in management plans. Increase big sagebrush canopy cover to above 10%. Mean woody canopy cover of sagebrush (from line transect or sample plot).
Validation Documents repeated patterns in effectiveness to document causal relationships between practices and management objectives. Maintaining cover of sagebrush above 20% will support sage grouse nesting success. Mean woody canopy cover of sagebrush (from line transect or sample plot) and sage grouse nest success measures.
Implementation Documents, in measurable form, the plans that are implemented. Document that vegetation treatment was implemented according to standards by the predetermined time. Herbicide treatments were implemented for allotment 00701 in June, 2018 and for allotment 01062 in May, 2019.

Next Page: Establishing monitoring goals and objectives


Patrick Comer, Ph.D., Chief Ecologist


Monitoring ecosystems and landscapes

8.5. Monitoring ecosystems and landscapes

Establishing monitoring goals and objectives

8.5 Resources

Chapter 8 – Full Index