National Park Service

Rocky Mountain I&M Network

Vital Signs Monitoring

The NPS Inventory & Monitoring Program defines the term "vital sign" as "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" (

The Rocky Mountain Network has identified 12 high-priority vital signs for monitoring. In the context of the NPS Ecological Monitoring Framework, two high-priority Rocky Mountain Network vital signs relate to Air and Climate, three relate to Water, six relate to Biological Integrity, and one relates to Ecosystem Pattern and Processes. These vital signs will be developed in detail as we complete and implement monitoring protocols over the next three to five years.

Vital Signs Planning

The Rocky Mountain Network vital signs selection process was a 3-year collaborative effort among park managers, park professional staff, Rocky Mountain Network and other NPS staff, and scientific and technical partners outside the NPS. Vital signs development included conducting park scoping meetings, developing descriptions of the natural setting and management issues in each park, and formulating conceptual models of key ecological processes within possible vital signs. We held two widely attended workshops to develop vital signs objectives and initially prioritize vital signs. Working with the Rocky Mountain Network Technical Committee and Board of Directors during a two-day follow-up meeting, we utilized workshop results to "select" the 12 highest priority vital signs for the Network.

Because many Rocky Mountain Network vital signs are interrelated, and are important components in multiple ecosystems, we grouped common elements together into a series of protocols that will be central to Rocky Mountain Network monitoring. This approach allows the Rocky Mountain Network to report status and trends for specific vital signs, by ecosystem, and by protocol.

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster