Monitoring Plan

The Monitoring Plan toolbox provides an overview of monitoring plan development that is useful for monitoring any of the social or biophysical components of the wilderness resource. It features a process template and also includes guides, checklists, examples, training resources, and references for more information. Contact us to suggest new materials for inclusion.


Monitoring provides a means to ensure that wilderness character and the benefits and values of wilderness are protected. It is the systematic collection and evaluation of social and biophysical data to establish a baseline and/or determine condition and identify changes and trends over time. The primary purpose of monitoring in wilderness is to provide essential information for identifying and minimizing the biophysical and social impacts of human influences on wilderness and the effectiveness of management actions. Results reflect the extent to which the requirements of the Wilderness Act, agency policy, and management objectives are being met. A monitoring plan specifies the information needed and provides a structured, strategic framework within which monitoring is conducted to most efficiently and effectively collect it.

For any wilderness monitoring program it is useful to begin by outlining the basic program by describing the essential components. This method can help focus the monitoring program on what is needed and head off inefficiencies or the gathering of useless data later as the program is implemented. The basic questions that need to be addressed are the following:

  1. What are the goals and objectives for your area?
    1. Identify a desired future condition, as specific as possible for each component of the wilderness resource
  2. What are the public issues and resource concerns for the social and bio/physical values of wilderness?
    1. How will you identify these?
  3. What can be measured? What are the indicators?
    1. Are they measurable, meaningful, repeatable?
  4. What level and type of monitoring is necessary?
    1. All sites? Some? Threatened?
    2. Locate and map only? Measure all parameters?
  5. How will data be managed?
    1. Downloaded, entered, stored, mapped?
    2. Analyzed, used, reported, interpreted?

Once the questions outline above are addressed implementation of the monitoring program can begin. Time, funding, and other resources are limited and implementing even the minimum standard monitoring program can be a challenge. In many cases programs can be augmented and even run by ’citizen wilderness stewards’ or volunteers who are willing to collect, process and even analyze data. Many people with useful skills are willing to do this work but training, equipment, and supervision will still be required from the wilderness manager. For information on volunteers and other partnerships see the Volunteers and Partners Toolbox.

Law and Policy

The Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act does not specifically require monitoring, but the need for monitoring is implicit in the law. Here are two excerpts from the Wilderness Act that support the need for monitoring in wilderness:

Section 2 (a) Purpose:
"For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by the Congress as "wilderness areas," and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness;..."

Section 2 (c) Definition
"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which

(1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable;

(2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation;..." and

"(4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

Agency Policy


610 FW 2.28 How does the Service conduct inventory and monitoring activities in wilderness?

Long-term wilderness stewardship requires that we inventory and monitor wilderness character. Conditions prevailing within a wilderness area at the time of designation serve as a benchmark for the area's wilderness character.

A. We will not allow degradation of these conditions.

B. We should conduct baseline inventories for key wilderness resources and identify the nature, magnitude, and source of any threats that originate both within and outside the wilderness area. Baseline data also provide a frame of reference for the limits, thresholds, and indicators identified in the WSP that may trigger refuge management activities, including limiting public use.

C. Inventories also give us the information necessary to evaluate the effects of refuge management activities, refuge uses, and external threats on wilderness character. We will evaluate proposed inventory and monitoring protocols and activities in an MRA and document inventory and monitoring activities in the refuge's WSP.

610 FW 3 Wilderness Stewardship Plan Outline

VII. Monitoring. To determine if we are meeting our wilderness stewardship objectives and other refuge management objectives in wilderness, identify: monitoring requirements; associated protocols; partnership, funding, and staffing needs; indicators of change in resource conditions; standards for measuring that change; and desired conditions or thresholds that will trigger management actions to reduce or prevent impacts on the wilderness.

701 FW 2 Inventory and Monitoring of Populations

2.1 Purpose. This chapter provides guidance in planning a program to inventory flora and fauna at a Service unit, and to monitor the status and trends of key flora and fauna as they relate to management of Service units and Federal trust species.

2.2 Scope. These guidelines apply to all inventory and monitoring of plant, fish, and wildlife conducted by Service resource managers. They do not reference plant inventories beyond the scope of basic species lists, general distribution, and abundance; nor do they reference plant surveys in the context of habitat monitoring. They apply to survey schemes developed for a single service unit, as well as to comprehensive schemes for multiple units.


FSM 2322.03 - Policy

2. The wilderness component of the forest plan shall include, as a minimum, the following:

c. Monitoring requirements for determining whether prescriptions, standards, and guidelines are met.


Wilderness Monitoring

The systematic gathering, comparison, and evaluation of data for use in wilderness planning and management. It can include efforts to inventory current use and conditions and to compare current use and conditions with past inventories to determine natural or human-caused changes.

Monitoring Program

The type of use, impact, or experience to be monitored such as campsites, trail impacts, visitor use, and visitor encounters.


Biophysical or social variables that can be measured to track changes in conditions, visitor use, and experiences. Indicators are the measures that determine a change in condition and identify trends. For example, an indicator for campsite condition might be "percent of bare soil." This is a variable that can be measured and tracked over time and can determine if a threshold or standard is exceeded. The measurable standard for this indicator might be "no more than 50% bare soil within any campsite."

Monitoring Method

The type or types of monitoring to be implemented. The types vary by information needed, accuracy, precision, sensitivity, visitor burden, and resources required. For example, campsites may be monitored using photo points, conditions class ratings, multi-parameter, or a hybrid that combines all or part of several methods. Some practitioners may use the term "monitoring systems" synonymously with "monitoring methods".


The rules, procedures, and techniques used to implement all parts of your monitoring methods. They specify what is to be measured and how, and where and how often data will be collected. The protocols articulate clear, standardized definitions, and specific procedures for training the workforce in that data collection. For example a protocol for determining the "percent of bare soil" at a campsite would provide a definition of bare soil to address whether any vegetation could be present and also describe the specific techniques and equipment to be used for measuring the area and recording the data.

Training Resources


Other Relevant Toolboxes