Downward-Upward Continuity in Monitoring

Monitoring provides the basis for closing multiple adaptive management loops:  without evaluating your work, you cannot know whether you are achieving your desired outcomes.  In this post, I argue first that landscape-scale endeavors place a premium on monitoring because monitoring stitches together multiple pillars of the work, not only projects.  Second, I argue that one must begin thinking about monitoring at the outset of a landscape planning process to create downward-upward continuity among the various phases, and eventually manage adaptively – at both the project and landscape-scales.  Generally, throughout the Lake Tahoe West effort and other initiatives I have managed, this principle of proactively anticipating future needs – in this case, thinking about monitoring at the outset – provides a cornerstone for success.

For a point of reference, I distinguish between four types of monitoring:

  1.  Implementation monitoring: did you implement work as it was designed?
  2.  Effectiveness monitoring: did your work achieve the desired outcomes?
  3.  Model validation monitoring: did your modeling produce accurate outputs?
  4.  Regulatory compliance monitoring: is your work meeting regulatory standards?

For the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership, I prepared the following Monitoring Downward-Upward Continuity diagram.

LTW Monitoring Downward-Upward Continuity Diagram 06-05-17.jpg

In the diagram, I sought to illustrate several points.

First, I sought to show that we anticipate the need to monitor numerous indicators used in our Landscape Resilience Assessment (LRA, Phase 1).  Currently we have about 14 landscape resilience indicators (we haven’t yet completed the LRA).  We recognize that down the road we likely will have better data for certain topics, and likely will replace some of the indicators and/or add new ones.  That is fine.  The take-home point is that we don’t want to forget about our landscape resilience indicators as we move forward.  Otherwise, when we try and determine in the future (say, 2027) whether the trajectory of the landscape as a whole is moving in the desired direction, we will not be able to compare conditions with where they were in 2017 – and not be able to advance landscape-scale adaptive management.

Second, developing our Landscape Restoration Strategy (LRS, Phase 2) will involve an interlinked series of models (fire, fuels, vegetation, and carbon outputs from one foundational model will be used by subsequent erosion and water quality, wildlife, water supply, and air quality and smoke plume models).  We are purposely making sure that the resilience indicators in the landscape assessment (Phase 1) are at minimum compatible, if not identical, with those modeled during Phase 2.  The point of including key modeled indicators in the diagram is to show that we don’t want to forget about these, either, since future monitoring will allow us to assess and improve the accuracy of our models (i.e., model validation monitoring).

We also recognize that Restoration Project Planning (Phase 3) likely will introduce some additional indicators to monitor.  The site-specific conditions of a project introduce nuanced issues that often require the monitoring of dedicated indicators to resolve them over time.  For example, my work with Sierra National Forest concerned the protection of nesting habitat for California spotted owl, and in our landscape assessment we used basal area as an indicator of habitat suitability.  At the same time, in our monitoring plan for projects, we included canopy cover and occupancy as additional indicators that would tell us about more specific treatment effects.  Such project-scale indicators are the most common focus of monitoring plans since on-the-ground work occurs through projects.  Closing this loop is the basis of project-scale adaptive management.

Fourth, we recognize that regulations bring their own set of indicators.  For example, in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Timber Waiver can require monitoring of post-treatment vegetative recovery, invasive species, and evidence of erosion or transport of ash, each of which includes specific indicators.

Monitoring is then operationalized through an ecological and socio-economic, multiparty monitoring plan, and subsequent reporting and performance measurement.

In summary, as illustrated in the diagram, monitoring for landscape resilience necessarily links multiple phases of work, including but not limited to the classic focus on project-based indicators.  If one does not recognize up-front the need to eventually close multiple adaptive management loops, one risks developing landscape resilience indicators that are incompatible with other indicators, and/or get forgotten as one moves through planning into implementation.  The purpose of thinking early-on about building downward-upward continuity into your monitoring is to capture the opportunity for not only project-scale, but landscape-scale adaptive management.

Reflecting on the example provided here, What peculiarities has working at the landscape-scale introduced to your monitoring efforts? 


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