Park employee looking at harbor seals through a spotting scope at Point Reyes National Seashore
Monitoring harbor seals at Point Reyes National Seashore

NPS / J. Weinberg McClosky

Our Natural Inheritance

The National Park Service is the steward of some of the most pristine and revered landscapes in the nation. Parks are our collective inheritance, and we need to make sure that they are passed on unimpaired to future generations.

Monitoring is the repeated observation and measurement of specific park natural resources in order to better understand their condition. Monitoring allows us to detect change, identify any potential problems in the early stages, and measure success. Data and analyses resulting from monitoring are powerful tools that allow park managers to make sound decisions about the parks entrusted in their care.

I&M uses the term vital signs for particular species, habitats, landscapes, and abiotic factors (e.g., water, air, soil) that help indicate the health of an ecosystem.

Some examples of vital signs include water quality, freshwater invertebrates, birds, amphibians and reptiles, forest and woodland communities, and glacial features. Methodical, careful measurements, year after year, of these vital signs are key to understanding if or how an ecosystem might be changing.

But collecting data is only half the story. A cornerstone of I&M is the strong emphasis placed on data management. Our commitment is to ensure that our information is reliable, usable, protected against loss, and readily available now, and in the decades to come.

Park staff next to a stream examining macroinvertebrates

Vital Signs Monitoring

Just as people monitor their vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse, I&M networks monitor selected park vital signs.

NPS scientist in the field with a GPS unit and a clipboard

Managing Science Data

Well-designed data management systems and procedures are essential for the success of long-term monitoring.

Last updated: July 31, 2018