Increasing numbers of regional, multiple species conservation plans have been developed in California since the early 1990s. However, building effective monitoring and adaptive management programs to support these plans has remained a challenge. In addition to collecting data on the status of resources and the results of management actions, monitoring programs for these plans need to resolve critical uncertainties and channel information into effective decisionmaking. Because of the broad goals of many regional conservation plans, monitoring programs need to address ecosystem integrity and biodiversity while also tracking species “covered” by plan permits.
In this document we provide a step-by-step procedure for developing effective monitoring programs in an adaptive management context. The guidance provided here has been gleaned from experience with large multiple species plans in southern California. The process begins with clearly defining program objectives, partitioning the program into manageable but meaningful pieces, and developing management-oriented conceptual models of system function.
Then, based on the objectives and conceptual models, monitoring recommendations and critical uncertainties can be identified and a coordinated program designed. We include practical examples and insights from programs in southern California and discuss the evolution of monitoring and adaptive management programs through three successive stages: 1) inventorying resources and identifying relationships; 2) pilot testing of long-term monitoring and resolving critical management uncertainties; and 3) implementing long-term monitoring and adaptive management. Ultimately, the success of regional conservation planning depends on the ability of monitoring programs to confront the challenges of adaptively managing and monitoring complex ecosystems and diverse arrays of sensitive species.