Few initiatives are more vital to the Conserving the Future goal of bolstering the scientific underpinning of National Wildlife Refuge System wildlife management than the Inventory and Monitoring program.

The I&M program was established in 2010 to gather, analyze and disseminate authoritative, scientifically rigorous biological data about the status, trends and responses to management of species and habitats within the Refuge System, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and landscape conservation cooperatives (LCCs).

The I&M program is based at the Natural Resource Program Center (NRPC) in Fort Collins, CO, with about 70 regional coordinators and biologists located around the country. In its twoyear existence, says national I&M manager Jana Newman, the program has made headway in many areas, including:

  • Ensuring that field stations have access to a core set of geospatial abiotic base data layers for topography, aerial photography, hydrology, soils and infrastructure.

  • Conducting water resources inventories and hydrogeomorphic analyses.

  • Designing and implementing ServCat, a centralized repository for critical refuge management documents. [See Adventures in I&M Data Mining.]

  • Developing a repository called Planning and Review of I&M on Refuges (PRIMR) that provides detailed information about more than 2,000 surveys.

  • Supporting adaptive management efforts across the Refuge System.

  • Implementing invasive-plantsmapping pilot inventories at four refuges (Alligator River, Quivira, Silvio O. Conte and San Diego).

  • Encouraging refuges to partner with the USA-National Phenological Network.

  • Collaborating with partners on wilderness character monitoring.

  • Coordinating with the Service’s Migratory Bird program.

  • Coordinating with partners on predictive models of climate-induced change in oceanographic variables, including sea-level rise.

  • Providing guidance on predictive models in Arctic and high-latitude environmental changes.

“In short,” Newman says, “we strive to ensure that there is credible, interdisciplinary scientific information to inform biological planning at multiple scales.”

But what Newman, Mark Chase, the director of the NRPC who oversees the I&M program, and Keenan Adams, the newest addition to the I&M team, really want Service employees and others to know is: The I&M program exists to help the field.

If you’re a refuge manager putting together a comprehensive conservation plan � or a refuge biologist seeking landscape-level data on an endangered species that’s outside your area of expertise � or a visitor services specialist looking for reliable information but having trouble navigating a cumbersome database, “we’re here,” says Newman. “Contact us. Be proactive. We try to reach out, but with 556 refuges we can’t reach everybody. Contact your regional I&M coordinator or your data manager. We can help out.”

Adams, in particular, sees himself as “a nexus between the field and the science center for the Refuge System.”

Most recently a deputy project leader at Pelican Island Refuge Complex in Florida, Adams came to Fort Collins in June as a managing biologist.

“I was one of those refuge managers who took every opportunity to remind people in the headquarters office and regional office that they should engage the field more with certain decisions,” he says. “This job was an opportunity to ‘practice what I preach.’ I knew that I&M would have many challenges if refuge managers and biologists were not ‘bought in.’”

He saw the job as a chance to “work in a science center and gain a nationalscale perspective, but also provide the center with a field perspective.” He expects most of his time to be spent on managerial matters and working with the NRPC’s new human dimensions branch, but he’ll spend a good deal of time as an I&M biologist asking, “Does this make sense to the field.”

Chase identifies three major challenges for the I&M program, which is funded at about $20 million annually.

The first is “changing the cultural mind-set to truly look at conservation challenges and solutions beyond our artificial human constructs of political boundaries, regional and programmatic structures.”

The second is transitioning from “plugging holes” to “strategically gathering rigorous, credible information that informs our planning consistent with our strategic habitat conservation (SHC) framework.”

The third is data management, which Chase says is expensive and often an afterthought. “We must make the organizational commitment to invest in data management to support every refuge, both regionally and nationally.”

For now, Adams has an immediate message to Service employees on the ground: “Get engaged. Call your regional I&M coordinator. Stay open-minded. Use the tools that will be provided to you by the I&M program; they’re there to make your life easier.”