Using benchmarks to assess management objectives across ecological domains

TitleUsing benchmarks to assess management objectives across ecological domains
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsTraynor A, Miller SW, McCord S, Webb N, Stauffer N, Kachergis E, Newbury C, Courtright J, Cappuccio N
Conference NameEcological Society of America
Date Published02/2020
Conference LocationSalt Lake City, Utah
ARIS Log Number374805

Background: Adaptive management of natural resources is an iterative process of planning and documenting objectives, implementing management actions, monitoring, and adjusting future actions. Ecological monitoring has been a weak link of the adaptive management process in the past but that is changing. In an increasingly data-rich environment, setting quantifiable, specific, and informative management objectives is essential for successfully applying data to decision-making. Communicating
these objectives to a broad audience including public land managers and practitioners, the scientific community, and the general public is increasingly becoming a greater challenge than data availability. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has established the Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) program, a standardized monitoring program designed to determine the status, condition, and trend of terrestrial and lotic resources on public land. We demonstrate a framework for creating, organizing, and utilizing quantitative benchmarks for indicators specific to wildlife habitat, invasive species, soil and site stability, and water quality using the AIM strategy. Our objectives are to provide a flexible and accessible framework for documenting management goals, defining monitoring objectives, selecting appropriate ecological indicators and documenting specific quantitative benchmarks within an area of interest. Using this approach, monitoring data collected using probabilistic sample designs can be used to assess the proportion of management areas meeting benchmarks for management objectives and thus provide clear and objective support as to whether management actions should be reviewed or amended.
Results: This benchmarking process is exemplified through a grazing permit renewal analysis based on watershed land health evaluations in central Wyoming. We used a design-based weighted analysis approach using a range of indicators for terrestrial and lotic ecosystem structure and function. The indicators chosen were guided by BLM Rangeland Health Standards and included: lotic fine sediment content, specific conductance, nitrogen and phosphorous content, abundance of macroinvertebrates, amount of bare soil, and upland vegetative cover including cover of perennial grass species, non-native invasive species, and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Benchmarks were set using predicted natural condition models, state water quality standards, and desired condition based on management goals and professional judgement. Results concluded the allotment had major departure from expected natural conditions for non-native invasive species, macroinvertebrate abundance, specific conductance, and total phosphorus while meeting objectives for stream nitrogen content, perennial grass cover, and sagebrush cover. This approach enables potential management trade-offs and synergies to be identified and addressed across objectives from multiple disciplines while improving the clarity of the decision-making process. Paper #88722.