6.2 Developing a Monitoring Plan
Monitoring projects often fail because the purpose, goals, and monitoring methods are not clearly defined. The development of a monitoring plan is a process that clarifies what is to be considered prior to going into the field. Since field time is very expensive, development of a monitoring plan in the office can save valuable field time and improve the quality of the data being collected. The monitoring plan does not have to be lengthy; in fact, most can be written in a single page. The plan will be most useful if it addresses the following points (after Elzinga and others 1998):
- Purpose—Outlining the reason for monitoring, goals, and criteria for success
- Intensity—Determining the scope
- Who—Identifying expertise needed
- What—Determining parameters to monitor
- When—Determining frequency
- Where—Delineating where sampling will occur
- How—Selecting the monitoring procedures for data collection and analysis
- Logistics—Defining timeline, budget, data management, and equipment
These points become the backbone of the monitoring plan.
6.2.1 Outlining the Reason for Monitoring (Purpose)
A common pitfall in many monitoring projects is the lack of clearly stated objectives or reasoning behind field visits and data collection. A good monitoring project is not defined by the amount of data collected, but whether the data adequately and effectively answered whether the objectives of the revegetation project were met. Successfully answering this question is only possible when the objectives for monitoring are clearly stated. Monitoring efforts not only link back to the original project objectives, but also to the specific DFCs developed in the planning phase (Section 3.2 and Section 3.7). Objectives and DFCs set the targets (sometimes referred to as "performance standards," "thresholds," "success criteria," or "indicators") against which the project is evaluated (Clewell 2004).
A monitoring plan begins with a statement of purpose or reason for monitoring. This is often a restatement of the objectives and DFCs of the revegetation project. If the objective of a revegetation project is to improve pollinator habitat by increasing the cover and diversity of native plants, then the monitoring plan would focus specifically on those elements pertaining to species diversity and plant cover and avoid collecting extraneous data. In addition, monitoring native bees and monarch butterflies would indicate how populations of insects have responded to the resulting plant composition. Time will be saved and the value of the data will be increased by streamlining data collection to include only the information needed to answer the question of whether the project met the objectives or DFCs stated in the plan.
DFCs are often stated in quantitative language. For example, the DFCs for a cut slope three years after construction could be stated in the revegetation plan as "less than 25 percent bare soil will be exposed" and "vegetative cover will be composed of greater than 70 percent native species." These DFCs are very specific and can be used as target values, or thresholds, for determining whether the project was successful. Monitoring methods, or procedures, are developed specifically around each of these DFC targets. When monitoring is approached in this manner, only the information needed to determine whether targets were met is collected. Expensive, superfluous data collection is avoided because the DFC targets are clearly defined. The monitoring plan defines how this information will be measured and evaluated. After field data is collected, the DFC target values can be used to evaluate success or failure and whether corrective action is needed.
6.2.2 Determining the Intensity (Intensity)
The scope of data collection will depend on the size and importance of a revegetation project. Not all revegetation projects will involve the same intensity of monitoring to meet project goals. Some portions of the revegetation project might entail only a field review and a series of photographs, while other areas within the project will involve a statistically designed monitoring procedure. At a minimum, most projects call for annual visits and recorded observations or qualitative assessments.
Portions of revegetation projects may benefit from statistically based monitoring procedures. For example, if a project has a water quality goal for sediment control that road sections near a high-value fishery have no greater than 20 percent bare soil for sediment control the first year after construction, the importance of this project to fisheries and water quality would underscore the importance of high confidence in the accuracy of the data. This could involve more intensive data collection and statistical analysis to ensure a higher level of certainty. Alternatively, road sections that do not affect the stream system may not involve the same level of effort. In such cases, qualitative assessments, such as photo point monitoring, may suffice (Section 6.5). In general, the scope of monitoring reflects the importance of the revegetation objective, ecological sensitivity of the project area, and budgetary constraints. The levels of monitoring intensities include the following:
- Low—Site visits, field notes, photographs
- Moderate—Photo point monitoring
- High—Statistically based data collection and analysis
6.2.3 Identifying the Needed Expertise (Who)
For efficiency and safety, a minimum team of two people is recommended for revegetation monitoring. The team is typically composed of the designer, or someone familiar with the revegetation project, and a person trained in plant identification. If parameters, such as soil characteristics are being monitored, then a person with soils background would also be involved, or if pollinator surveys are being conducted, then the team would have a person knowledgeable in identifying pollinators.
It is important to have one person be responsible for all monitoring activities. This person develops and implements the monitoring plan, conducts data collection and analyses, and completes the final monitoring report. It is advantageous that the project designer or personnel who planned and implemented the revegetation project be involved with data collection and even be the person that oversees the monitoring activities. Monitoring is often delegated to others with less knowledge of the project, but a great opportunity for learning is lost when this occurs. Monitoring is the feedback loop for the designer and implementer to make improvements on the next project.
6.2.4 Determining Monitoring Frequency (When)
Specifying the timing of data collection in terms of years following project completion is important in determining if DFC targets have been met. Monitoring that occurs within a year after project completion is conducted to assess whether some areas should be reseeded or replanted, and to determine efficacy of erosion-control devices (fabric, wattles, mulch, etc.). This low intensity monitoring is often conducted through site visits during which ocular estimates are made. Assessing the long-term success of a project is done three or more years after revegetation treatments have been completed. Some portions of a revegetation project may warrant more than one sampling visit. For example, a planting contract with a DFC of 400 live trees after the first year of planting and 300 trees alive after three years would be monitored the first and third years after planting.
Specifying the month or season when a project is monitored is also important. If the identification of individual plant species is the monitoring goal, monitoring is scheduled during the appropriate phenological window for plant identification. The bloom period is also the time when pollinators are sampled since this is when their populations are at their greatest. If outplanted stock is to be measured for survival or growth, the appropriate time to monitor is after seedlings have become established, which is typically 6 months to a year after planting. For climates with extended dry periods, common to the western United States, this monitoring is typically conducted in the fall. Alternatively, the collection of soil cover data for erosion control is done prior to intense rainstorm periods, which in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Texas is in the summer; for Gulf states, it is in the late summer and fall; and for the western United States, it is in fall and winter.
Bee populations vary seasonally and annually. For this reason, it is important for pollinator monitoring to sample a project more than once. For example, it may take several years for a newly seeded area to become established before there is an increase in pollinators. On these sites, monitoring pollinators the first year after seeding may not yield as much useful data as the second and third year, which may be the best years for monitoring. Pollinator surveys are best conducted when plants are flowering, which may warrant two or three surveys a year, especially if there is a variety of flowering species with different bloom times. Depending on the region, this can be in late spring/early summer, mid-summer, and late summer.
6.1.5 Delineating Sampling Locations (Where)
The sampling unit is the area in which a specific monitoring procedure will be used. Revegetation projects may be monitored as one sampling unit or several. A way to determine the locations of the sampling units is to revisit the revegetation unit map developed for the revegetation plan (Section 3.4). If the project is large or complex, some or all of the revegetation units may be treated as separate sampling units. Referring to the purpose for monitoring at the beginning of the monitoring plan helps identify the most important areas to monitor. For example, if the purpose for monitoring is to determine whether water quality objectives were met, only the areas adjacent to drainages and waterways would be delineated for high intensity monitoring, leaving the remainder of the project for low or moderate intensity monitoring. If the monitoring objective is to determine how well native plant species established, then setting up a sampling unit that would cover the entire revegetation project area may be appropriate. Comparing changes in plant or pollinator populations may benefit from locating and monitoring a nearby reference site.
6.2.6 Determining Parameters to be Monitored (What)
Clearly stating which essential data to collect will increase the quality of the monitoring data and minimize field time. Referring to the reason for monitoring, outlined at the beginning of the monitoring plan, helps narrow the parameters for data collection. These parameters are discussed in detail in Section 6.3.
6.2.7 Selecting Monitoring Procedures (How)
There are many vegetation and pollinator population monitoring methods, protocols, and procedures from which to select. Using an established set of monitoring procedures, tailored to the monitoring objectives, is important because they can save time and increase the quality of the data collected. The procedures outlined in this chapter were developed specifically for roadsides and road-related disturbances. A monitoring procedure, as defined in this report, provides information for conducting monitoring. These procedures are used for moderate and high intensity monitoring. Qualitative procedures, such as photo point monitoring, are used for moderate intensity monitoring. Statistically based procedures have been developed for high intensity monitoring.
For high intensity vegetation and pollinator monitoring, there are three sets of statistically based monitoring procedures that are used together. In the development of a monitoring plan, one procedure from each of the three procedure groups is selected for each sampling unit. These are discussed in Section 6.3.
The monitoring plan also includes a timeline that shows the periods and completion dates for field monitoring, data analysis, and the monitoring report. Included in this section are the specialists involved in monitoring, their expertise, and the estimated time involved. A budget can be developed from this information. Finally, a list of equipment can be attached to the monitoring plan.