After monitoring information has been collected, it must be analyzed and used to make management decisions. This handbook outlines an adaptive management process that emphasizes the use of monitoring data to determine whether or not progress is being made toward objectives. Monitoring activity therefore flows directly from the objectives. Adequate monitoring helps to justify continuing current management or making appropriate changes. Long-term, or effectiveness, monitoring focused on the objectives can be interpreted with strategic short-term, or implementation, monitoring that tracks the management applied and the effects of that management. Strategies for achieving objectives focus short-term monitoring. Practitioners should clarify linkages between strategies, objectives, and short-term and long-term monitoring methods. Rangeland managers use monitoring to adjust day-to-day management, adjust management plans, track management, track vegetation changes, interpret causes and relationships, and tell their story.
A great deal of monitoring data has been collected using the methods in the 1984 and 2006 Handbooks. These data should be retained and used because they provide valuable records for tracking and interpreting long-term vegetation changes as part of a continuing management story.
The number of available rangeland monitoring techniques is large. Although some commonly used methods are presented here with instructions, others are simply referenced because they are well described elsewhere. A list of references containing rangeland monitoring techniques is provided to emphasize that additional methods may be needed or may be better for monitoring the attainment of certain objectives. This handbook includes a section on developing a site-specific monitoring plan with clarity, commitments and a timeline. The Ranchers' Monitoring Guide (Perryman et al. 2006) gives specific directions for some monitoring procedures that address questions or objectives that many producers and others would consider important. Appendix A - Cooperative Monitoring provides a process and template for cooperative monitoring.
"Monitoring is the orderly collection, analysis, and interpretation of resource data to evaluate progress toward meeting objectives. This process must be conducted over time to determine if objectives are being met." (Bedell 1998).
- Determine whether management actions are meeting objectives.
- Provide a record of environmental and resource conditions, events and management actions that may influence objective achievement.
- Determine if management actions are maintaining or improving the rangeland value, productivity and condition (assuming those are reflected in the objectives).
- Identify vegetation trends toward ecological thresholds that are unacceptable because they may be irreversible.
- Evaluate when management changes are needed to meet objectives.
- Determine whether objectives are realistic and achievable.
- Evaluate whether present uses of money and time produce an acceptable benefit.
- Assist rangeland managers with herbivory management or management of other uses.
To start a monitoring program, identify objectives for the rangeland to be accomplished with management. Because of the importance of objectives for rangeland monitoring, the following sections address tools and criteria for setting objectives.