Protocols for Inventorying & Monitoring for National Park Service Networks

Developing protocols for remote-sensing based inventorying & monitoring (I&M) of vegetation patterns across several I&M networks of the National Park Service

A primary goal of the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring program (NPS I&M) is to “monitor park ecosystems to better understand their dynamic nature and condition and to provide reference points for comparisons with other, altered environments.”  In conjunction with several networks (see below) within the NPS I&M, we developed protocols for long-term, remote-sensing based monitoring of landscape patterns and vegetation changes.


Sierra Nevada Network (SIEN)

The National Park Service Sierra Nevada Network parks have chosen to monitor landscape changes over time using remote sensing data and technology. Our goal was to use existing tested analytical techniques to develop a system of protocols to address the goals of landscape monitoring. The objectives of the monitoring were to detect and map changes in vegetation patterns, vegetation condition, snow cover, fire events, and vegetation phenology. Landscape metrics were derived to analyze the direction and type of landscape change observed. The protocols detailed all the steps required to take raw remotely sensed data and pre-process it, analyze it, and produce data that indicated where the landscape had changed in some respect. When necessary, the protocols detailed the field validation work that is to be done. Pilot studies were used to test and validate change detection causation. The final protocols contained an estimate of the time and costs associated with applying each protocol.


Southwest Alaska Network (SWAN)

Because of their large size and wilderness character, the parks of the Southwest Alaska Network (SWAN) of the USDI National Park Service intended to incorporate remote sensing technology in protocols for long-term monitoring. Goals included detecting the effects and spatial patterns of avalanches and landslides, insect and disease mortality, fire, volcanic eruption, snow and ice change, and various successional processes. We adapted an existing monitoring method, developed for the National Parks of the NCCN (see below), based on Landsat Thematic Mapper and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (TM/ETM+) data. Once methods were adapted and validated (using historical reference data, direct interpretation of satellite imagery, and current-era overflight observation), we developed a protocol specific to the goals and needs of the SWAN monitoring program.


Northern and Southern Colorado Plateau Networks (NCPN & SCPN)

Park units of the Northern and Southern Colorado Plateau Inventory and Monitoring Networks (NCPN and SCPN, respectively) of the USDI National Park Service identified a need for long-term monitoring of landscape patterns and land use change.

The Colorado Plateau (CP) networks selected land use/land cover, landscape vegetation pattern/landscape structure, land or vegetation condition, and disturbance patterns as core vital signs to monitor. The goal of our work was to use existing literature and focused pilot studies to investigate whether remote sensing technologies could be used to develop maps of these indicators both at a single date and over time, and to subsequently develop protocols to be transferred to the NPS for this map development.



North Coast and Cascades Network (NCCN)

Under this Interagency Agreement between the USDA Forest Service and the USDI USGS, we developed protocols to use Landsat imagery for long-term ecological monitoring in the National Parks in the NCCN (primarily in the state of Washington). In contrast to traditional change detection projects, this project required that a broad suite of unrelated changes be monitored simultaneously. We explored several different preprocessing methods, change detection techniques, and validation approaches in developing protocols that were then taken over by Park staff for long-term, in-house monitoring.