Inventory & Monitoring

Discovering and protecting America's natural heritage

The Inventory and Monitoring Program

I&M Networks
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I&M Networks

Recent Developments


National Park managers across the country are confronted with increasingly complex and challenging issues that require a broad-based understanding of the status and trends of each park's natural resources as a basis for making decisions, working with other agencies, and communicating with the public to protect park natural systems and native species. 

As part of the National Park Service's effort to "improve park management through greater reliance on scientific knowledge," a primary role of the Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) Program is to collect, organize, and make available natural resource data and to contribute to the Service's institutional knowledge by facilitating the transformation of data into information through analysis, synthesis, and modeling.

The primary goals of the I&M Program are to:

  • Inventory the natural resources under National Park Service stewardship to determine their nature and status.
  • Monitor park ecosystems to better understand their dynamic nature and condition and to provide reference points for comparisons with other, altered environments.
  • Establish natural resource inventory and monitoring as a standard practice throughout the National Park system that transcends traditional program, activity, and funding boundaries.
  • Integrate natural resource inventory and monitoring information into National Park Service planning, management, and decision making.
  • Share National Park Service accomplishments and information with other natural resource organizations and form partnerships for attaining common goals and objectives.

Natural Resource Inventories in the National Parks

The I&M Program provides guidance, funding, and technical assistance for National Park Service (NPS) to complete a set of 12 baseline natural resource inventories. Natural resource inventories are extensive point-in-time surveys to determine the location or condition of a resource, including the presence, class, distribution, and status of biological resources such as plants and animals, and abiotic resources such as air, water, soils, landforms, and climate.

Inventories are designed to contribute to our knowledge of the condition of park resources and establish baseline information for subsequent monitoring activities.
»Inventory home page»

Monitoring Natural Resources in the National Parks

The NPS has initiated a long-term ecological monitoring program, known as "Vital Signs Monitoring", to provide the minimum infrastructure needed to track the overall condition of natural resources in parks and to provide early warning of situations that require intervention. The scientifically sound information obtained through this systems-based monitoring program will have multiple applications for management decision-making, park planning, research, education, and promoting public understanding of park resources.

Park vital signs are a subset of physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of park ecosystems that are selected to represent the overall health or condition of park resources, known or hypothesized effects of stressors, or elements that have important human values.
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Inventory and Monitoring Networks

To facilitate collaboration, information sharing, and economies of scale in inventory and monitoring, the NPS has organized more than 270 parks with significant natural resources into 32 ecoregional networks to conduct expanded inventory and monitoring activities. Each network supports a core, professional staff who conduct the day-to-day activities of the network and who collaborate with staff from network parks and other programs and agencies to implement an integrated long-term program to monitor the highest-priority vital signs.

Network staff are involved in numerous activities and functions, such as organizing and cataloging data; performing data analysis, synthesis, and modeling; and providing data and expertise to park planners. Network personnel are also occasionally called upon to provide data and expertise for resource assessments and resource stewardship strategies, and to contribute to performance reporting.
»Parks and Networks home page»

Inventory and Monitoring Data Management

Data and information are the primary products of natural resource inventories and ecological monitoring. Data management systems and procedures have been developed by the National I&M Program and each of the 32 networks with the objective of ensuring data quality, security, longevity and availability. Comprehensive data management plans accompany network monitoring plans, which provide specific guidance on how data resulting from inventory and monitoring efforts will be acquired, processed, checked, analyzed, distributed, and archived.

Well-designed and well-documented data management systems and procedures are particularly important for the success of long-term programs where the lifespan of a data set will extend across the careers of many scientists, and numerous changes in technology are to be expected.
»Data Management home page»

More Information

Updated November 16, 2010    I   Email: Webmaster
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