A Framework for Long-term Ecological Monitoring in Olympic National Park: Prototype for the Coniferous Forest Biome

Information and Technology Report 2003-0006

Prepared in Cooperation with Olympic National Park
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This report is the result of a five-year collaboration between scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Olympic Field Station, and the natural resources staff of Olympic National Park to develop a comprehensive strategy for monitoring natural resources of Olympic National Park. Olympic National Park is the National Park Serviceʼs prototype monitoring park, representing parks in the coniferous forest biome. Under the umbrella of the National Park Serviceʼs prototype parks program, U.S. Geological Survey and Olympic National Park staffs are obligated to:

  • develop strategies and designs for monitoring the long-term health and integrity of national park ecosystems with a significant coniferous forest component.
  • design exportable monitoring protocols that can be used by other parks within the coniferous forest biome (i.e., parks having similar environments), and
  • create a demonstration area and ʻcenter of excellenceʼ for assisting other parks in developing ecological monitoring programs.

Olympic National Park is part of the North Coast and Cascades Network, a network of seven Pacific Northwestern park units created recently by the National Park Serviceʼs Inventory and Monitoring Program to extend the monitoring of ʻvital signsʼ of park health to all National Park Service units. It is our intent and hope that the monitoring strategies and conceptual models described here will meet the overall purpose of the prototype parks monitoring program in proving useful not only to Olympic National Park, but also to parks within the North Coast and Cascades Network and elsewhere.

Part I contains the conceptual design and sampling framework for the prototype long-term monitoring program in Olympic National Park. In this section, we explore key elements of monitoring design that help to ensure the spatial, ecological, and temporal integration of monitoring program elements and discuss approaches used to design an ecosystem-based monitoring program. Basic monitoring components include ecosystem drivers, (e.g., climate, atmospheric inputs, human pressures), indicators of ecosystem integrity (e.g., biogeochemical indicators), known threats (e.g., impacts of introduced mountain goats), and focal or ʻkeyʼ species (e.g., rare or listed species, Roosevelt elk). Monitoring system drivers and key indicators of ecosystem integrity provide the long-term baseline needed to judge what constitutes ʻunnaturalʼ variation in park resources and provide the earliest possible warning of unacceptable change. Monitoring effects of known threats and the status of focal species will provide information useful to park managers for dealing with current park issues.

In Part I we describe the process of identifying potential indicators of ecological condition and present conceptual models of park ecosystems. In addition we report results from several workshops held in conjunction with Olympic National Park aimed at identifying potential indicators of change in the parkʼs ecosystem. First, we describe the responses of Olympic National Park staff to the generic question, “What is the most important resource to monitor in Olympic National Park and why?” followed by the responses from resource and land managers from areas adjoining the park. We also catalogue the responses of various expert groups that we asked to help identify the most appropriate system drivers and indicators of change in the Olympic National Park ecosystems. Results of the workshops provided the justification for selecting basic indicators of ecosystem integrity, effects of current threats to park resources, and focal resources of parks to detect both the currently evident and unforeseeable changes in park resources.

We conclude Part I by exploring several generic statistical issues relevant to monitoring natural resources in Olympic National Park. Specifically we discuss trade-offs associated with sampling extensively versus sampling intensively in smaller geographic regions and describe a conceptual framework to guide development of a generic sampling frame for monitoring. We recommend partitioning Olympic National Park into three zones of decreasing accessibility to maximize monitoring efficiency. We present examples of how the generic sampling frame could be used to help ensure spatial integration of individual monitoring projects.

Part II of the report is a record of the potential monitoring questions and indicators identified to date in our workshops. The presentation is organized according to the major system drivers, components, and processes identified in the intermediate-level working model of the Olympic National Park ecosystem. For each component of the park system, we develop the need and justification for monitoring, articulate park management issues, and describe key resources and ecosystem functions. We also present a pictorial conceptual model of each ecological subsystem, identify monitoring questions, and list potential indicators for each monitoring question. We conclude each section by identifying linkages of indicators to other ecological subsystems in our general ecosystem model, spatial and temporal contexts for monitoring (where and how often to monitor), and research and development needs. Part II represents the most current detailed listing of potential indicators—the material for subsequent discussions of monitoring priorities and selection of indicators for protocol development.

Collectively, the sections of this report contain a comprehensive list of the important monitoring questions and potential indicators as well as recommendations for designing an integrated monitoring program. In Part I, Chapter 6 we provide recommendations on how to proceed with the important next steps in the design process: establishing priorities among the many possible monitoring questions and indicators, and beginning to research and design effective long-term monitoring protocols.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Federal Government Series
A Framework for Long-term Ecological Monitoring in Olympic National Park: Prototype for the Coniferous Forest Biome
Series title:
Information and Technology Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center
x, 150 p.