Wildlife Management:

Problems Being Experienced With Current Monitoring Approach

RCED-91-123: Published: Jul 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's management indicator species approach to monitoring wildlife and their habitat in national forests, focusing on the cost-effectiveness and ultimate usefulness of this approach.

GAO found that: (1) although the management indicator approach is based on sound theory, several practical drawbacks exist which raise questions about whether data collected on selected species can provide the basis for drawing conclusions on overall habitat conditions; (2) the costs of monitoring indicator species populations were prohibitive, since the cost of monitoring increased as the population of the species being monitored decreased or as the size of the habitat increased; (3) even when planned data collection efforts were completed using the management indicator species approach to monitoring, the data had limited usefulness because they revealed population changes without conclusively relating observed changes to overall habitat conditions or Service management actions; (4) although Service headquarters officials acknowledge that problems exist in field implementation of the management indicator species approach, they believe that these difficulties stem more from the application of the management indicator species principle than from fundamental weaknesses with the concept itself; and (5) Service headquarters is revising its national direction on wildlife and wildlife habitat monitoring.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service's approach to monitoring has been clarified in a revised proposed rule on forest planning. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on April 13, 1995. Following an extended comment period that resulted in over 1,000 public responses, the Forest Service prepared a final rule in December 1995. The final rule is in the Department of Agriculture's review and clearance process and is expected to be finalized by early 1997.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to fully consider the concerns GAO identified about the utility of the management indicator species approach to wildlife monitoring as the agency considers modification and clarification of the approach. During the ongoing agency examination of the Forest Service's monitoring approach, the needs and experiences of field staff responsible for implementing it should be solicited and reflected in any rules and guidance that are ultimately issued.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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