Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 161-174

First online:

Monitoring the condition of natural resources in US national parks

  • S. G. FancyAffiliated withNatural Resource Program Center, Office of Inventory, Monitoring, and Evaluation, National Park Service Email author 
  • , J. E. GrossAffiliated withNatural Resource Program Center, Office of Inventory, Monitoring, and Evaluation, National Park Service
  • , S. L. CarterAffiliated withNational Capital Region, Center for Urban Ecology, National Park Service

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The National Park Service has developed a long-term ecological monitoring program for 32 ecoregional networks containing more than 270 parks with significant natural resources. The monitoring program assists park managers in developing a broad-based understanding of the status and trends of park resources as a basis for making decisions and working with other agencies and the public for the long-term protection of park ecosystems. We found that the basic steps involved in planning and designing a long-term ecological monitoring program were the same for a range of ecological systems including coral reefs, deserts, arctic tundra, prairie grasslands, caves, and tropical rainforests. These steps involve (1) clearly defining goals and objectives, (2) compiling and summarizing existing information, (3) developing conceptual models, (4) prioritizing and selecting indicators, (5) developing an overall sampling design, (6) developing monitoring protocols, and (7) establishing data management, analysis, and reporting procedures. The broad-based, scientifically sound information obtained through this systems-based monitoring program will have multiple applications for management decision-making, research, education, and promoting public understanding of park resources. When combined with an effective education program, monitoring results can contribute not only to park issues, but also to larger quality-of-life issues that affect surrounding communities and can contribute significantly to the environmental health of the nation.


Ecological monitoring Environmental monitoring Monitoring design Indicator National park Protected areas Protocol Sampling design Vital signs