Connecting the dots: a collaborative USGS-NPS effort to expand the utility of monitoring data

The George Wright Forum
By: , and 



The Natural Resource Challenge (National Park Service 1999) was a call to action. It constituted a mandate for monitoring based on the twin premises that (1) natural resources in national parks require active management and stewardship if we are to protect them from gradual degradation, and (2) we cannot protect what we do not understand. The intent of the challenge was embodied in its original description:

We must expand existing inventory programs and develop efficient ways to monitor the vital signs of natural systems. We must enlist others in the scientific community to help, and also facilitate their inquiry. Managers must have and apply this information to preserve our natural resources.

In this article, we report on ongoing collaborative work between the National Park Service (NPS) and the US Geological Survey (USGS) that seeks to add to our scientific understanding of the ecological processes operating behind vital signs monitoring data. The ultimate goal of this work is to provide insights that can facilitate an understanding of the systems and identify potential opportunities for active stewardship by NPS managers (Bennetts et al. 2007; Mitchell et al. 2014). The bulk of the work thus far has involved Acadia and Rocky Mountain national parks, but there are plans for extending the work to additional parks.

Our story stats with work designed to consider ways of assessing the status and condition of natural resources and the potential for historical or ongoing influences of human activities. In the 1990s, the concept of "biotic integrity" began to take hold as an aspiration for developing quantitative indices describing how closely the conditions at a site resemble those found at pristine, unimpacted sites. Quantitative methods for developing indices of biotic integrity (IBIs) and elaborations of that idea (e.g., ecological integrity) have received considerable attention and application of these methods to natural resources has become widespread (Karr 1991; Barbour et al. 1999; Stoddard et al. 2008). Despite widespread use, many questions remain about how metrics are combined to form effective indices and about how to interpret both.

Scientists and natural resource specialists within NPS and USGS have joined forces to critique the current analysis methods, with the collaboration involving the Rocky Mountain and Northeast Temperate NPS Inventory and Monitoring (I & M) networks, along with others, and USGS scientists from the National Wetlands Research Center and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Funding that initiated the project was from a joint-partnership fund managed by the USGS Ecosystems Program for National Park Monitoring research and the work was focused at Acadia National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Here we present synopses of two major issues addressed by the group.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Connecting the dots: a collaborative USGS-NPS effort to expand the utility of monitoring data
Series title The George Wright Forum
Volume 31
Issue 2
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher The George Wright Society
Publisher location Hancock, MI
Contributing office(s) National Wetlands Research Center
Description 10 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title The George Wright Forum
First page 181
Last page 190
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