Monitoring & Adaptive Management

Monitoring is an essential activity to determine the status and detect change in ecological resources and assess the effectiveness of management and conservation actions. Monitoring is a core component of adaptive management, an approach to management that recognizes the inherent complexity and uncertainty in managing natural resources and structures management into a learning process that maximizes management success and reduces uncertainty.
Implementing a successful monitoring and adaptive management process for conservation projects and programs, however, has proven difficult. The reasons for these difficulties are related to monitoring design and sampling (Table 1) or to those related to institutional understanding (of the role of monitoring in conservation), support (resources such as funding, staffing, expertise) and implementation. A very common situation is one in which the monitoring results are not communicated to decision-makers or integrated into decision-making.
Enduring Conservation Outcomes has extensive experience reviewing, designing and implementing monitoring protocols, analyzing monitoring data and enhancing the effectiveness of adaptive management programs. Rob Sutter has developed monitoring plans and protocols for The Nature Conservancy, Department of Defense, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service. He and other team members have experience analyzing data including parametric and nonparametric statistics, ordination and GRTS sampling design.

Sampling Design Reasons for Failed Monitoring Projects

  • The objectives of monitoring, the information desired for management and conservation, are not clearly understood
  • The precision of data does not allow an assessment of status or change
  • The study design is inappropriate for the objective of monitoring and/or the sampling design does not allow inferences to be made beyond the area sampled.
  • The results do not provide an conclusive insights on status or change
  • The sample units cannot be accurately relocated
  • The sampling design and sampling methods are poorly communicated, thus the monitoring lacks repeatability.
  • The monitoring design or results are not integrated with management actions.
  • The data is not analyzed

Ongoing Projects

Science Advisor for The Desert Conservation Program, Clark County, Nevada
Enduring Conservation Outcomes was awarded the Science Advisor role for The Desert Conservation Program in Clark County, Nevada in October 2009. The Desert Conservation Program oversees the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) for the county, developed under the Endangered Species Act, to insure that the 78 covered species are not endangered by regional development. The Science Advisor produces a biennial Adaptive Management Report, advises the program on their activities and leads specific projects. The specific objectives of the Adaptive Management Report are to review land use and habitat loss by ecosystem, to review status and trends of covered species through the annual updates to the MSHCP Species Status Database, review the status and effectiveness of the implementation of the MSHCP, and provide written recommendations and advice on aspects of the MSHCP as requested. The objectives span several scales of assessment, from the assessment of the status and trend of populations and species to the review of broader programmatic actions. The contract runs through December 2012.

San Diego County Multiple Species Conservation Plan

The objectives of the initial work on the San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) were to compile regional information on rare plant monitoring, provide a technical assessment of program performance and develop recommendations for improving the monitoring program design. The MSCP covers 42 plant taxa and has 15 signatory jurisdictions. The recommendations included enhancing regional collaboration, selecting the appropriate types of monitoring for populations and species, improving the precision of monitoring data, developing a system for data archiving and using a standardized monitoring methodology. Currently Rob Sutter, working with Kathryn McEachern of the US Geological Survey, is reviewing and analyzing all the monitoring data collected from 2006 to 2008, developing model monitoring protocols for assessing population status, including a training session for staff, and designing a monitoring protocol to assess the effectiveness of different management treatments for one of the covered species.

Completed: June 2006 and Ongoing

McEachern, Kathryn, Bruce M. Pavlik, Jon Rebman and Rob Sutter. 2007. San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) Rare Plant Monitoring Review and Revision. US Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5016, Reston, Virginia.

Eglin Air Force Base: Adaptive Management and Science Review

Rob Sutter has been involved in the adaptive management program at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) since the late 1990s. Over the last decade he has developed desired ecological conditions and ecological models for 19 species (including both plants and animals, one of which was the gopher tortoise) and ecosystems, assisted in the development of a base-wide status monitoring methodology, worked on the team that has been annually analyzing the monitoring data for both change in ecosystem status and assessing the effectiveness of different management regimes and worked to improve the use of remote sensing to assess forest condition. He has also facilitated the independent scientific review committee that assesses the adaptive management program at the base. He continues to work with Eglin AFB on refining the desired ecological conditions for longleaf pine ecosystems, analyzing monitoring data, and helping to enhance the decision support system. Part of this work is funded by Eglin AFB and part by a 1.3 million dollar Department of Defense research grant, for which Robert Sutter is a co-PI.

 Sutter, R.D., J.J. Bachant, D.R. Gordon and A.R. Litt. 2001. An Assessment of the Desired Ecological Conditions for Focal Conservation Targets on Eglin Air Force Base. The Nature Conservancy, Durham, NC
Sutter, Robert D., Alison McGee, Brett Williams and Michelle Creech. 2008. A framework for restoring longleaf pine ecosystems. Durham, North Carolina, Southern Resource Office, The Nature Conservancy

Recently Completed Projects

Improving Monitoring and Adaptive Management for the Clark County, Nevada Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan

This project addressed some of the hurdles of implementing monitoring protocols on covered species for the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). The tasks included holding a three day monitoring workshop for all agencies and jurisdictions party to the MSHCP and reviewing monitoring protocols for four covered species developed by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (National Park Service). The most extensive component of the project is written guidance to help improve monitoring across all agencies party to the MSHCP. This included an implementation framework for monitoring and adaptive management which covers information on setting species priorities, developing monitoring objectives and indicators, developing a study and sampling design and a plan for managing data, determining how data will be analyzed, interpreted and communicated, and making the monitoring process adaptive. The framework was used as the basis of developing model monitoring protocols for the threecorner milkvetch (Astragalus geyeri var. triquetrus) and the Las Vegas bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica).

Completed: June 2009

Sutter, Robert, Sonja Kokos and Dianne Bangle. 2009. Improving the Implementation of Ecological Monitoring and Adaptive Management in the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. The Desert Conservation Program, Clark County, Nevada

Monitoring the Status and Effectiveness of Large Forest Conservation Projects

In response to the International Paper Acquisition Project (282,000 acres in 11 states) by The Nature Conservancy in 2006, Rob Sutter led a team to assess both the success of the project (the status of each property in meeting the expected conservation objectives) and the effectiveness of several commonly used protection strategies (selling to Timber Investment Management Organizations, the effectiveness of Forest Certification Programs [FSC, SFI], the success of working forests, the use of conservation easements on private lands). To assess the status of each property in relation to its expected conservation objective, the project developed a tiered monitoring approach. The first level of monitoring relied on remote sensing and expert knowledge to determine if the property was meeting its expected conservation objective. The team used a leading edge remote sensing approach (tassel-cap change detection) and a systematic survey methodology with thirteen indicators of protection and management. Higher levels of monitoring that incorporate ground-based sampling were implemented when necessary to assess the conservation objectives. Assessing the effectiveness of commonly used protection strategies required an expanded study design, and included forest conservation projects in 8 states.

 Blanchard, Jon, Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui and Robert Sutter. 2009. Forest Conservation Strategy Effectiveness Study (FoCoSES): Year 1 Report. Durham, North Carolina, Southern Resource Office, The Nature Conservancy
Sutter, Robert, Jon Blanchard and Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui. 2009. Evaluating the Conservation Outcomes of the International Paper Forest Acquisition Project: Year 2 Monitoring Report. Durham, North Carolina, Southern Resource Office, The Nature Conservancy
Wiens, John, Robert Sutter, Mark Anderson, Jon Blanchard, Analie Barnett, Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui, Chadwick Avery and Stephen Laine. 2009. Selecting and conserving lands for biodiversity: the role of remote sensing. Remote Sensing of Environment, 113: 1370-1381.