The National Park Service Monitoring Program was instituted in 1996 to assess the health of park ecosystems. The program's primary goal is to detect early signals of ecosystem change.
The NPS Monitoring program is organized into 32 networks, each composed of National Park units with common physiographic characteristics and ecological properties. One goal of each network is to select key indices by which to monitor ecosystem health.
These indices, known as Vital Signs, are chosen because they are sensitive to environmental fluctuations and, as such, allow early detection of change. The Vital Signs are also expected to provide feedback on park management practices, as well as direct future management and research.
The Vital Signs selected by a given network are a function of the resources present in network parks, ecosystem sensitivity to these resources, and logistic and fiscal practicality of monitoring them.
Purpose and Goals
The overall purpose of natural resource monitoring in parks is to develop scientifically sound information on the current status and long term trends in the composition, structure, and function of park ecosystems, and to determine how well current management practices are sustaining those ecosystems. Use of monitoring information will increase confidence in manager's decisions and improve their ability to manage park resources, and will allow managers to confront and mitigate threats to the park and operate more effectively in legal and political arenas. To be effective, the monitoring program must be relevant to current management issues as well as anticipate future issues based on current and potential threats to park resources. The program must be scientifically credible, produce data of known quality that are accessible to managers and researchers in a timely manner, and be linked explicitly to management decision-making processes.
- 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.
An effective long-term ecosystem monitoring program will:
- Enable managers to make better informed management decisions;
- Provide early warning of abnormal conditions in time to develop effective mitigation measures;
- Provide data to convince other agencies and individuals to make decisions benefiting parks;
- Satisfy certain legal mandates; and
- Provide reference data for comparison with more disturbed sites.
Chihuahuan Desert Network Plan Development
Development of the Chihuahuan Desert Network's long-term monitoring plan is being developed in 3 phases. Phase I involved defining goals and objectives; beginning the process of identifying, evaluating and synthesizing existing data; developing draft conceptual models; and completing other background work that must be done before the initial selection of vital signs. Phase II of the planning and design effort involved prioritizing and selecting the vital signs that are included in the network's integrated monitoring program. The CHDN Phase I and II reports are now available. Phase III report (finalize report available by September 2008) will contain the details needed to implement monitoring, including monitoring protocols for selected vital signs and statistical sampling designs.