Across professional and personal settings, monitoring is vital for ensuring that we meet our goals. It allows us to reflect on how much progress we have made and what we need to do to continue making progress towards reaching our goals. Monitoring also provides accountability, helping to track what we have accomplished with the resources we have.

As humans, we engage in monitoring every day, whether we realize it or not. We monitor our health through check-ups and visits to the dentist. We monitor our exercise and our spending. We set goals for ourselves and track our progress towards accomplishing them.

In the National Forest System, officials develop monitoring programs to evaluate implementation and effectiveness of management strategies and to determine whether adjustments are needed. The process of assessing the effectiveness of management and making adjustments when necessary is known as monitoring and adaptive management. It allows us to create long-term plans that are able to respond to changing conditions without having to create an entirely new plan.

Aimee Tomcho

As a Conservation Connect Fellow, I have been working with the National Forests in North Carolina to develop a monitoring implementation guide for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. The guide will detail how monitoring will be conducted for the 58 monitoring questions selected in the new Forest Plan. The questions include topics ranging from visitor use and satisfaction to watershed conditions and from the status of focal species to economic impacts of timber harvesting and mining.

One goal of the guide is to help ensure that monitoring procedures are consistent throughout the 15 to 20-year life of the forest plan, even as staff come and go. To accomplish this goal, I helped write methods that describe who will be responsible for assessing each monitoring question, how often each question will be assessed, how data will be collected and analyzed, and where data will be stored.

Another goal is to set potential “alerts” that would indicate to forest officials that changes to the Forest Plan or monitoring program might be necessary. These alerts could be trends across multiple years of monitoring data. For example, declining visitor satisfaction over multiple monitoring periods may indicate that recreation programs should be reviewed and potentially revised. They could also be thresholds or deviations from previously observed conditions. For example, a newly discovered pathogen or disease may indicate that new treatments and management strategies might be necessary. It can be challenging to identify alerts for situations that are unpredictable and hopefully will never happen. However, it is important to set alerts ahead of time so that undesirable conditions do not go unnoticed and so there is a process in place to address them.

Valeric Pruc

As monitoring is completed, results will be released in a publicly available report every two years. The biennial monitoring reports help decision makers within the National Forests evaluate conditions across the landscape. This process is an essential part of managing healthy and resilient National Forests.

Sasha Figel is a 2023 Conservation Connect Fellow. She is pursuing a master’s degree in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is evaluating costs of prescribed fire on U.S. Forest Service lands in California.

National Forest Foundation