Overview of Monitoring Steps
Monitoring: The Main Steps
main steps involved in planning and implementing a monitoring
Monitoring as a Pilot Study
Report and Use
These seven steps highlight how we go about monitoring in natural
resources. Essentially, rather than taking measurements and
fishing for relationships in the data; we
start with what we perceive is the likely management
objective and activity and do each step to see how we get there.
||Complete Background Tasks
first step is often skipped with dire consequences. Before
one starts dreaming up plans and creating a monitoring protocol it is
important to know what information already exists. What information is
in the files? What are the overall management priorities? What has
been published on the topic?
and Monitoring Objectives
When one knows
the basic lay of the land, it is time to start honing in on a specific
objective. This important step is
called defining the problem or "setting
objectives" and it is not usually as easy as it sounds. A
monitoring objective must be stated clearly with a focus on specific attributes
and directions of change. A monitoring objective like "I want to see if
the plant community is changing" is not very useful. Specificity is needed. For example, "To determine if the herbaceous biomass and fine fuel load at
the end of the growing season in an open ponderosa pine forest is maintained at
a level below 1,000 kg/ha in response to mid-season grazing by cattle."
A popular movement
of setting "SMART" objectives in the business planning world can be applied to
natural resource management. SMART objectives are:
Objectives should specifically state what you want to achieve on the land
you are managing.
It must be possible to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or
- Are the objectives you set, achievable in your current setting? Consider
environmental constraints, societal expectations, economic parameters, legal
requirements, and technological limitations.
Set objectives that you can realistically achieve given the natural and
management context of your situation.
Set a time horizon for to meet management objectives.
A clear example of
how to set land management and monitoring objectives is presented in an online
module called "Rangeland
Monitoring on Western Uplands" developed by the University of Arizona.
This example is very specific to ranching and grazing. However, it is worth
exploring as a possible way to set objectives. (You may need to log in to
access this web site. You can log in as a "guest" if you want to avoid giving
your name or location).
examples of setting management objectives are offered in Chapter 4 (pages 46-48)
Measuring and Monitoring Plant Communities.
Setting a monitoring
is not an easy task as sometimes we see
symptoms rather than identifying the
For example, we may be interested in productivity in a mountain
meadow and our monitoring may reveale that production of grasses and forbs is
decreasing over the last decated. However, knowing this trend does not reveal
the underlying cause. For example, soil moisture may be becoming increasingly
limited because of encroachment of conifer trees into the meadow.
Monitoring: Management vs. Research
In research, it is very common to monitor the area we are
interested in and an adjacent area that exhibits most of the
same features but that is not subject to the actions or
treatments we are studying. These additional non-changing samples are called
controls. The ability to
consistently observe notable or significant differences between
the treated (i.e., subject to change) area and those that should
not change (i.e., the controls) enables scientists to be very
confident that their results are valid.
The intensity and scale of vegetation measurements aimed at
assessing management actions will differ from those designed for scientific
research. A manager may only want a ball-park, best-guess
or estimate of vegetation conditions, whereas scientists often seek to take
measurements as consistent and accurate as possible. To
highlight the difference, scientists will expend considerable
resources to assess the effects of a treatment. For example, a
good scientific study may have 40 sites for "each" pre-event
control, pre-event treatment, post-event control, and post-event
treatment. Many researchers would then repeat this methodology a
few times over subsequent years, to ensure that what they
observed wasn't a fluke in a given year. As you can imagine,
although such research may provide very detailed information of
why an observed event is occurring, it takes a long time and may
realistically take too long for the more immediate needs of land managers.