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Robust Inventory and Monitoring

by Bradley Watkins
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The Refuge System Improvement Act directs the Service to monitor the status and trends of fish, wildlife and plants on each wildlife refuge. Most wildlife refuges do not currently have a comprehensive baseline inventory of the diversity of fish, wildlife and plants that live there. Without an understanding of the species that depend on a wildlife refuge, the capacity to delivery effective conservation is reduced. This understanding is essential in order to assess the effects of a changing world.

Effective management requires an understanding of species distributions, abundances and demographics, and their relationships to habitat composition and condition across multiple spatial and temporal scales. It also requires the ability to predict and respond to changes in these relationships brought about by rapid climate change, invasive species, habitat loss and degradation and other environmental stressors. Understanding such complexity and anticipating the affects of management will require novel, robust inventory and monitoring approaches that have appropriate statistical rigor, are scalable, and can accommodate multiple metrics and taxa.

In 2010, the Refuge System launched a national inventory and monitoring program to increase its collective ability to inventory and monitor wildlife and habitats and inform conservation. Success in conserving fish, wildlife, plants and habitats will depend on how well integrated the inventory and monitoring efforts are with those of others throughout the conservation community.

Recommendation: Institutionalize a nationally coordinated program to inventory and monitor wildlife and habitats across multiple spatial and temporal scales.

The Refuge System must employ inventory and monitoring approaches that are scalable and collect information within hierarchical frameworks to allow analysis to occur at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Inventory and monitoring designs must be robust enough to detect subtle yet critical changes in populations and landscapes before causes are known; however, statistical rigor should be commensurate with the goals of a given project, risk tolerance and the priority of the resource issue in question. Wildlife refuges should monitor non-target impacts in adaptive management designs.

Developing an effective program will include identifying, supporting and expanding centers of inventory and monitoring excellence within and outside the Refuge System. It will support the development of consistent and reliable national habitat data sets to inform strategic habitat conservation, assist implementation of State Wildlife Action Plans and other conservation plans, and establish a baseline for inventory and monitoring. The Refuge System should explore the applicability of existing inventory and monitoring programs to its needs for attaining biological information, including invertebrates and plants as well as other flora and fauna associated with respective ecosystems. Collaboration on collection of biological data that allows detection of subtle changes in environmental health will inform refuge needs and establish the Refuge System as a valued partner in supporting strategic habitat conservation.

The Refuge System is building its inventory and monitoring program in close cooperation with the National Park Service. Federal land management agencies should collaborate and integrate their inventory and monitoring programs. This would not result in identical programs in each agency, as specific needs vary. Instead, it would allow for collaboration and sharing of information where interests are shared. It can assist in building a nationwide network to help detect changes in the population and distribution in response to climate changed conditions.

Recommendation: As part of a National Conservation Strategy, collaborate with other federal land management agencies to integrate inventory and monitoring programs.

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