Clear objectives are a critical part of the management process. Monitoring is necessary to assess whether or not objectives have been attained.
Two groups of objectives are important: management objectives and monitoring objectives. Management objectives apply to an entire tenure or management area, while monitoring objectives apply to specific features of the management program.
- Management objectives. The ‘maintenance of biodiversity’ and ‘sustainable forest management’ are examples of management objectives. Management objectives may be set through Criteria and Indicator frameworks, legislated frameworks (e.g. Forest and Range Practices Act), or they may be specific to an area or company, such as those within Sustainable Forest Management Plans.
- Monitoring objectives. A monitoring program is a series of specific monitoring objectives that evaluate whether the management objectives have been met. While there are myriad monitoring objectives that could be chosen to evaluate any given management objective, monitoring must be focused to be effective. A sub-set of monitoring objectives must be chosen from the range of possibilities. Ideally, this set should be comprised of objectives that are realistic and of highest relevance to the management objectives. There are three important steps when choosing a set of effective monitoring objectives:
1. Ask the key questions to determine the problems or issues that need to be addressed by management. Key questions can be identified by considering the current conditions of biodiversity in the area of concern, and by considering the management objectives. For example, “Are sufficient amounts of snags being retained for the maintenance of viable wildlife populations?” A monitoring program must ask the right questions to reduce statistical uncertainty, properly estimate parameters from noisy data, and assign probabilities to alternative hypotheses. Not all questions can be answered due to various constraints (e.g. funding, time, practical issues).1,2
2. Reduce the problems to a manageable scope, or ‘bound the problem‘. Often, there are more questions than resources to address them. By ‘bounding the problem’ we can prioritize questions by considering uncertainties that require immediate attention. These questions are a sub-set of hypotheses that can be used to gather the information that is most needed in order to make management practices more effective and to avoid unplanned and undesirable outcomes.
3. Assess how the questions may be answered. Questions can be answered by attempting to understand underlying mechanisms, and by comparing outcomes from a range of treatments or by comparing outcomes to targets or thresholds.
Treatment comparisons may be selected by:
-identifying alternative management actions that are operationally realistic (e.g., clearcutting, vs 15% variable retention, vs 30% variable retention)
-identifying alternative practices outside of the range of normal operations (e.g., 70% retention to achieve a specific local need, restoration activities)
-identifying benchmarks to include in the comparison (e.g., unmanaged areas such as old growth, or intensively managed areas such as clearcuts)
Targets may be set by:
– government regulations (e.g., Forest and Range Practices Act requires low turbidity levels in water).
– certification programs (e.g., the BC Forest Stewardship Certification program requires that stand and landscape features are retained within the ‘natural range of variability).
– scientific evidence (e.g., research may show that 3 large snags per ha is sufficient to maintain viable populations of the Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus)
1Mulder, 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 Station. PNW-GTR-437.
2Bunnell 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.