Are we going in the right direction?

Assessing effectiveness of management

Effectiveness of management, or the level of success at achieving objectives, is assessed by monitoring.1,2,3,4   There is no way to determine whether management strategies are effective, and no way to identify ways to improve management, without rigorous monitoring at various spatial and temporal scales.2,5   Monitoring is the “process of checking, observing, and measuring outcomes for key variables, or specific ecological phenomena against a predefined quantitative objective or standard ”. Monitoring is the only way of assessing whether we are selecting the most effective practices or meeting the targets or goals or.  It also is important in refining thresholds and indicating proximity to these.  It helps evaluate initial thresholds and may reveal needs for adjustment.

Why monitor?

In a context of uncertainty, limited knowledge, and continuous learning, efforts to evaluate success of management practices proceed best through the framework of adaptive management.   Effectiveness of management, or the level of success at achieving objectives, is assessed through monitoring and the results of this assessment are used to continuously improve management.1,3,4, 5   There is no way to determine whether management strategies are effective without rigorous monitoring at various spatial and temporal scales.2,5


  • Kinds of monitoring
    Several kinds of monitoring exist, but the one most commonly used with adaptive management is effectiveness monitoring.
  • Approach to designing a monitoring program  
    There are two major distinctions in the approach to designing a monitoring program.  One is the distinction between design-based versus model-based inference.7  The other is between active (experimental) adaptive management and passive (operational) adaptive management.  The questions under investigation will determine which is the better approach to take.
  • What to measure?
    Deciding on what to measure is critical to avoid bias and attain true ecological sustainability.2,8,9 Two questions are fundamental to all data:  “What would we do with such data if we had them?”  and “Will the data and design be sufficient to answer the question?”  Selecting measurables is a difficult task.
  • The statistical design
    The statistical design of a monitoring program must be robust.  The challenge is to develop programs that are statistically sound and that collect unbiased measurements of operational performance.4
  • Sampling methods
    Given the breadth of issues and entities encompassed by the term “biological diversity”, a wide range of sampling methods are potentially relevant.  The appropriate method thus begins with the question, which determines the appropriate temporal and spatial scales and appropriate measurables.  In some instances, choice between methods may be influenced by their relative cost and relative reliability.  This web site does not provide detail on the diverse sampling methods available.  It is best to consult with an expert when choosing methods to monitor specific questions and variables.  The government of British Columbia provides a series of guidelines to sample and inventory various taxa in the Province through the Resource Information Standard Committee (RISC) .  These standards are useful, but most were created to address a single species or habitat attribute.  As a result, they quickly become unmanageable and too costly when many are combined.  Unfortunately, most efforts to monitor biodiversity must address many variables and thus cannot expect to consistently meet RISC standards.
  • How often should we monitor?
    Ideally we monitor until we have answered a question or are confident in apparent trends.  Some monitoring may be short term but it is often continual – perhaps because human activities and demographics lead to ongoing environmental changes that bring unexpected ecological events.3   The frequency of monitoring depends on the rates at which the measurables change.  Slowly changing variables are monitored less frequently.  Within an adaptive management program, sampling frequencies will be revised periodically based on the information collected.
  • How to reduce the cost of monitoring?
    Monitoring raises one main question among managers: How much will monitoring for biological diversity cost?  Various authors have recommended ways to reduce monitoring costs.

1Lindenmayer, F.B. and J.F. Franklin. 2002. Conserving forest biodiversity: A comprehensive multiscale approach.  Island press, Washington, DC. 351p.
2Noss, R.F. and A.Y. Cooperrider. 1994. Saving natures legacy: Protecting and restoring biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, DC. 416p.
3Mulder, B.S., B.R. Noon, T.A. Spies, M.G. Raphael, C.J. Palmer, A.R. Olsen, G.H. Reeves and H.H. Welsh. 1999. The strategy and design of the effectiveness monitoring program for the northwest forest plan. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest  Station. PNW-GTR-437.
4Bunnell, F.L., B.G. Dunsworth, D,J, Huggard, and L.L. Kremsater.  2003.  Learning to sustain biological diversity on Weyerhaeuser’s coastal tenure. The Forest Project, Weyerhaeuser, Nanaimo, BC .
5Prabhu, R., H.J.Ruitenbeek, T.J.B. Boyle and C.J. Pierce Colfer. 2001. Between voodoo science and adaptive management: The role and research needs for indicators of sustainable forest management. Pp. 39-66 In Raison, R.J., A.G. Brown and D.W. Flinn. Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. CABI Publishing. IUFRO Research Series 7. Vienna.
6Dunster, J. and K. Dunster. 1996. Dictionary of natural resource management: The comprehensive single-source guide to natural resource management terms. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC. 363p.
7Bunnell, F.L.  Monitoring to sustain biodiversity in British Columbia.  Module 1:  Overview – goals, actions, monitoring, and indicators.  Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection. Victoria, BC.
8Lindenmayer, D.B., C.R. Margules and D.B. Botkin. 2000. Indicators of biodiversity for ecologically sustainable forest management. Conservation Biology 14(4):941-950.
9Lindenmayer, D.B. 1999. Future directions for biodiversity conservation in managed forests: Indicator species, impact studies and monitoring programs. Forest Ecology and Management 115: 277-287. 416p.