The cover landscape photo and the picture of the two people  sampling were taken by Daniel Salzer. Both photos were  taken at The Nature Conservancy’s Katharine Ordway Sycan  Marsh Preserve. The individuals shown sampling in the small  photo are Rob Lindsay and Linda Poole Rexroat, both are  TNC employees. The inset flower photo was taken by Linda M. Hardie, and shows grass-widows (Sisyrinchium douglasii),  at the Nature Conservany’s Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena Crest.



Caryl L. Elzinga Ph.D.
Alderspring Ecological Consulting P.O. Box 64
Tendoy, ID 83468

Daniel W. Salzer
Coordinator of Research and Monitoring
The Nature Conservancy of Oregon
821 S.E. 14th Avenue
Portland, OR 97214

John W. Willoughby
State Botanist
Bureau of Land Management
California State Office
2135 Butano Drive
Sacramento, CA 95825

This technical reference represents a team effort by the three authors. The order of authors is alphabetical and does not represent the level of contribution.

Though this document was produced through an interagency effort, the following BLM numbers have been assigned for tracking and administrative purposes:

BLM Technical Reference 1730-1



The production of this document would not have been possible without the help of many individuals. Phil Dittberner of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Applied Resource Sciences Center (NARSC) coordinated the effort for BLM. Ken Berg, former BLM National Botanist, provided support and funding for the project.

The content of many chapters in this Technical Reference has benefited from the review of lecture outlines included in “Vegetation Monitoring in a Management Context,” a week-long  monitoring workshop offered jointly by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service.

The authors would also like to acknowledge those persons who reviewed the document and provided valuable comments, including Jim Alegria of the BLM Oregon State Office; Paul  Sawyer of the BLM Arizona State Office; Rita Beard, Andrew Kratz, Will Moir, and David  Wheeler of the Forest Service; Peggy Olwell of the National Park Service; and Gary White of Colorado State University.

We’d like to thank Sherry Smith of Indexing Services for the many hours she donated to this project in developing the index to this TR.

We extend a special thank you to Janine Koselak (Visual Information Specialist) of NARSC for doing a masterful job in layout, design, and production of the final document.


This technical reference applies to monitoring situations involving a single plant species, such as  an indicator species, key species, or weed. It was originally developed for monitoring special status plants, which have some recognized status at the Federal, State, or agency level because of  their rarity or vulnerability. Most examples and discussions in this technical reference focus on  these special status species, but the methods described are also applicable to any single-species  monitoring and even some community monitoring situations. We thus hope wildlife biologists,  range conservationists, botanists, and ecologists will all find this technical reference helpful.

Monitoring is not a new activity for land management agencies, but there is a renewed interest  and a new national emphasis on improving the quality of monitoring. Monitoring designed and  executed effectively is a powerful tool for better management of resources. Good monitoring,  while initially expensive to implement, is eventually costffective because management problems can be detected at an early stage, when solutions may yet be relatively inexpensive. Good monitoring can demonstrate that management is effective and successful, can silence critics, and can encourage the widespread adoption of an effective management technique.

Often, however, the results from monitoring are inconclusive and fail to provide the information needed to evaluate the success of management. Inconclusive or ambiguous monitoring results are  expensive, both in terms of the resources wasted on the monitoring project and the potential  costs of incorrect action. These costs are often difficult to measure because they are exacted  from the environment in the form of environmental damage, or from industry in the form of  unnecessary controls. Reduced public confidence and litigation expenses are additional hidden costs of poor monitoring.

Many monitoring projects suffer one of five unfortunate fates: (1) they are never completely implemented; (2) the data are collected but not analyzed; (3) the data are analyzed but results are inconclusive; (4) the data are analyzed and are interesting, but are not presented to decision makers; (5) the data are analyzed and presented, but are not used for decision-making because of internal or external factors (see Appendix 1 for some typical scenarios). The problem is rarely the collection of data. Agency personnel are often avid collectors of field data because it is one of the most enjoyable parts of their jobs. Data collection, however, is a small part of successful monitoring.

Because of the difficulty and importance of effective monitoring, agencies developed standard monitoring approaches in the 1960s through 1980s. While these techniques effectively met the challenges of that time, they are inadequate now for several reasons:

  • The resources and management effects of interest today are more variable and complex. It is difficult for standard designs to keep pace with the rapid changes in issues. Monitoring data from standard techniques are sometimes inconclusive because the studies are not specifically designed for the issue in question.
  • Many standard techniques do not address issues of statistical precision and power during design; thus, standard monitoring techniques that involve sampling may provide estimates that are too imprecise for confident management decisions.
  • Commodity and environmental groups have become more sophisticated in resource measurement and are increasingly skeptical of data from standard agency techniques.
  • Funding reductions are restricting resources available for monitoring projects. Concurrently, agencies are being required to more clearly demonstrate through monitoring that funds are being used to effectively manage public lands. This situation requires the design of efficient monitoring projects that provide data specific to the current issues.

The challenges of successful monitoring involve efficient and specific design, and a commitment to implementation of the monitoring project, from data collection to reporting and using results.  We have designed this technical reference with these challenges in mind. Our approach differs radically from the development of standard techniques for field offices to apply. We instead provide technical guidance that assists field personnel in thinking through the many decisions that they must make to specifically design monitoring projects for the site, resources, and issues. We base this approach on the belief that local resource managers and specialists understand their issues and their resources best and, therefore, are best able to design monitoring to meet their specific needs. With this technical reference, local personnel can design much of the monitoring done at the local level, and recognize when they need additional specialized skills for a successful project.

We encourage you to treat this technical reference not as a step-by-step guide on how to implement a monitoring study, but as a collection of pieces that you need to choose among and put together for your particular situation and species. We have organized this technical reference to follow a logical progression of planning and objective setting, designing the methodology, taking the measurements in the field, analyzing and presenting the data, and making the necessary management responses. Many of these steps, however, occur simultaneously, or provide feedback to others. Decisions made at each step of the monitoring process can affect the whole project, and those made at later stages sometimes require the reassessment of previous decisions. A listing and short content description of each chapter should make it clear that those chapters we have placed in the latter part of the reference are also important in the conceptual stage if the monitoring is to be efficient and effective:

Chapter 1.     Introduction—Describes the role of monitoring in adaptive management. Contrasts monitoring with other data-collection activities, such as inventory and long-term ecological studies.

Chapter 2.     Monitoring Overview—Provides a step-by-step overview of the entire monitoring process, and references chapters where information on each step can be found in more detail. Flow charts are included to illustrate feedback loops and interrelationships among the steps.

Chapter 3.     Setting Priorities and Selecting Scale—Presents criteria and techniques for setting priorities among species or populations and choosing the most appropriate scale and intensity for monitoring.

Chapter 4.     Management Objectives—Illustrates the foundational nature of management objectives and describes their components, types, and development.

Chapter 5.     Basic Principles of Sampling—Describes basic terms and concepts relevant to sampling using simple examples. This chapter provides background information critical to understanding material presented in Chapters 6, 7, and 11.

Chapter 6.     Sampling Objectives—Describes objectives that complement management objectives whenever the monitoring includes sampling procedures. A sampling objective sets a specific goal for the level of precision or acceptable error rates associated with the sampling process.

Chapter 7.     Sampling Design—Describes how to make the six basic decisions that must be made in designing a sample-based monitoring study: (1) What is the population of  interest? (2) What is an appropriate sampling unit? (3) What is an appropriate sampling unit size and shape? (4) How should sampling units be positioned? (5) Should sampling units be permanent or temporary? (6) How many sampling units should be sampled?

Chapter 8.     Field Techniques for Measuring Vegetation—Discusses selecting an appropriate vegetation attribute to measure when monitoring (e.g., cover, density, frequency, biomass, etc.) in terms of the biology and morphology of the species, and the practical limitations involved in each type of measurement. Field techniques for measuring each vegetation attribute and advice on field techniques and tools are provided.

Chapter 9.     Data Management—Covers different ways of recording monitoring data in the field and describes means for entering and managing field monitoring data sets with computers.

Chapter 10. Communication and Monitoring Plans—Encourages the use of monitoring plans to solicit involvement in the development of a monitoring project, and to document the accepted monitoring protocol. Describes parties whose support may be critical for a successful monitoring project.

Chapter 11. Statistical Analysis—Describes the methods used to analyze monitoring data collected using sampling procedures, the use of graphs to examine data prior to analysis and to display the results of analysis, and the interpretation of monitoring data following analysis.

Chapter 12. Demography—Describes techniques for demographic analysis of populations and provides cautions and suggestions for their use.

Chapter 13. Completing Monitoring and Reporting Results—Summarizes the final stages of a monitoring project and describes methods for reporting results.

Effective monitoring is not easy; it requires a commitment of time and a willingness to think through alternatives during planning and design. We believe you will find that increasing time spent in design reduces total monitoring costs by making monitoring more efficient and effective. Above all, we hope to help you avoid wasting time on a monitoring project that fails to yield results useful for management decisions.

Because this is a somewhat novel approach, and because we intend to eventually update this handbook, we are especially interested in receiving your comments and opinions. You can send comments to:

Dr. Phil Dittberner

National Applied Resource Sciences Center, RS-140
Denver Federal Center, Building 50
P.O. Box 25047
Denver, CO 80225-0047