Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Guide for Natural Resource Managers 3rd Edition

Establishing monitoring goals and objectives

As described above, the first step in monitoring should generally be the establishment of goals and objectives. They should be developed to help determine whether broader management goals are being met. For example, general management goals may be to maintain or improve current conditions of a system over time. This requires knowledge of existing conditions and reference conditions that may be used to establish the state of a system in relation to target goals. In addition, while management goals may be more general or aspirational, monitoring objectives should be practical and specific in how they relate to actions and decisions in pursuit of management goals. One set of guidelines commonly used to set practical objectives are S.M.A.R.T. criteria, that objectives should be:

1) Specific 2) Measurable 3) Achievable 4) Results-oriented 5) Time-fixed

In the context of a sagebrush-dominated landscape, an example objective may be to increase sagebrush cover to a target level within a focal area. Table 8.2 presents an example with a S.M.A.R.T. goal of increasing cover to the specific and achievable level of > 15%, within seven years, measurable through application of line-point intercept assessment of sagebrush cover in a set of LCTA style sampling plots.

Table 8.2. Example monitoring objectives in relation to adaptive management and a target management goal of preventing conversion of sagebrush within a target area to juniper woodland.

Management Objective
  • Prevent conversion of sagebrush dominated vegetation in target area to juniper woodland.
Example Treatment
  • If density rises above 15 trees per hectare or percent cover of juniper rises above 5%. Conduct hand or mechanical removal of junipers within target areas
Monitoring Actions
  • Determine juniper density with an accuracy of +/- five trees per hectare every five years for the next 15 years.
  • Determine percent juniper cover with an accuracy of+/- 2% annually for the next 15 years. 
  • Track the effectiveness of juniper removal treatments at reducing junipers 5 years following treatment.
Potential Adaptive Responses
  • If juniper cover exceeds targets, implement juniper removal.
  • If removal is effective at reducing juniper cover below targets, continue treatments when juniper targets exceed threshold.
  • If removal is not effective at reducing juniper levels below management targets, revisit treatment options and management goals.

Monitoring indicators
The range of indicators and metrics that can be used to assess condition over time in relation is broadly addressed above under indicator metrics, which notes that indicators of ecological conditions can be identified and assessed at different levels (Brooks et al. 2004, Wardrop et al. 2013) depending on the purpose and design of the project. Level 1 (Remote Assessment) relies primarily on remote sensing-based indicators. Level 2 (Rapid Field Assessment) uses relatively simple semi-quantitative or quantitative condition indicators that are readily observed in the field, often supplemented by a stressor checklist (see below). Level 3 (Intensive Field Assessment) requires detailed quantitative field measurements and may include intensive versions of some of the rapid metrics (Stein et al. 2009).

A primary source for methods used on Army lands is the Land Condition Trend Analysis (LCTA) Program, which has gathered natural resource condition data since the 1990s (Diersing et al. 1992). A parallel and relevant program on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in their Assessment Inventory and Monitoring Program (AIM), and DoD managers may find these current methods of interest. Because the BLM’s AIM program presents a set of core and supplemental monitoring metrics, sample design, and sampling frequency (default of five years), relevant to monitoring vegetation condition, we refer readers to these metrics and methods as the preferred first option for selection of monitoring metrics. These methods may be added to from a list of semi-standard supplement methods, in addition to custom metrics that may be project specific (e.g., custom soil or vegetation metrics assessed within an BLM plot to address a target question). The methods established by BLM are vetted and selected for relevance to managers and present a means of leveraging agency-wide investment in monitoring. For example, the core BLM methodology of permanent and repeated measurement of vegetation along line-point intercept transects is not only highly accurate and repeatable (Elzinga et al. 1998). It is supported by standards of calibration and training for crews conducting this sampling, as well as by automated data-collection assistance through the USDA’s Database for Inventory Monitoring and Assessment (DIMA). Table 8.3 presents a list of standard core and supplement methods that the Bureau of Land Management uses and can be utilized for selection of monitoring metrics.

Table 8.3. BLM Core and Supplement methods and potential indicators that can be utilized in monitoring and assessment. These methods are emphasized here as they present a standard framework and protocol in use across BLM field offices.

BLM Core Methods Indicators
Line Point Intercept Bare ground, plant species cover, litter cover, mortality
Plot species Inventory Species richness/ presence of target species
Vegetation Height Average height, variability, max height
Gap Intercept Proportion of soil surface characterized by canopy gaps
Soil Stability Soil aggregate stability
Photo points Varied indicators that may be seen in photos (e.g. dominance of invasive species, vegetation structure).
BLM Supplemental Methods Indicators
Forb Diversity Average number of forbs/acre, number of preferred sage grouse forbs/acre
Compaction Test Level of soil compaction
Describing Indicators of Rangeland Health 17 specific categorical and quantitative measures of condition related to rangelands
Infiltration Infiltration rate (mm/hr)
Plant Production Overall or taxon-specific levels of annual production (pounds/acre)
Plant Density Density of target plant species
Tree Density Density and size of tree species

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