National Park Service

Inventory & Monitoring (I&M)

Monitoring the Condition of Natural Resources

The natural resource monitoring component of the NPS I&M Program provides park managers, planners, and other key audiences with scientifically-credible data and information on the status and trends of selected park resources. The information is used as a basis for making decisions and working with other agencies and the public for the long-term protection of park ecosystems.

The NPS monitoring program is designed to provide site-specific information needed to identify and understand change in park ecosystems that are characterized by complexity, variability, and surprises. The information helps to determine whether observed changes are within natural levels of variability, or if they may be the result of unwanted human influences.

The broad-based, scientifically sound information obtained through this systems-based, long-term ecological monitoring program has multiple applications for management decision-making, research, education, and promoting public understanding of park resources.

Goals for Vital Signs Monitoring

  • Determine the status and trends, in selected indicators, of the condition of park ecosystems to allow managers to make better-informed decisions and to work more effectively with other agencies and individuals for the benefit of park resources.
  • Provide early warning of abnormal conditions of selected resources to help develop effective mitigation measures and reduce costs of management.
  • Provide data to better understand the dynamic nature and condition of park ecosystems and to provide reference points for comparisons with other, altered environments.
  • Provide data to meet certain legal and Congressional mandates related to natural resource protection and visitor enjoyment.
  • Provide a means of measuring progress towards performance goals.

Vital signs monitoring tracks a subset of physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of park ecosystems that are selected to represent the overall health or condition of park resources, known or hypothesized effects of stressors, or elements that have important human values. Monitoring results are used by park managers, planners, interpreters, and partners to support management decision-making, park planning, research, education, and public understanding of park resources.

More than 1,000 scientists, resource specialists, park managers, and data managers actively contributed to the design and implementation of this long-term program. This highly collaborative effort has resulted in an integrative, park-based program with a strong link between scientific and technical information and management needs, and an emphasis on helping to "put science into the hands of park managers and planners" in the National Park Service.

Last Updated: October 15, 2014 Contact Webmaster