Forest Health Monitoring
Monitoring is the systematic action to observe, check, and review the progress or quality of something over a period of time. Washington's 2020 Forest Action Plan confirms the importance of monitoring to collectively track our implementation towards shared goals and commitments to increase forest heatlh and resiliency across our state. Monitoring is essential for reporting and accountability, building shared understanding and trust, and increasing the effectiveness of forest health treatments over time. Effective monitoring will rely on a large network of people and organizations, and this Forest Health Tracker website is just one tool in our monitoring toolbox.
Monitoring forest conditions across eastern Washington: a multi-level and multi-party monitoring framework in support of the 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan
The 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan: Eastern Washington set a primary goal to “develop and implement a forest health resilience monitoring program that establishes criteria, tools, and processes to monitor forest and watershed conditions, assess progress, and reassess strategies over time.” Anticipating rapid and unprecedented changes across forest landscapes, DNR developed a framework witih partners to track progress toward forest health goals, including landscape restoration and climate change adaptation. This framework provides key components of adaptive management, which is the process of planning, implementing, monitoring, and integrating new information into management practices over time. The framework is currently focused on eastern Washington, but has applicability statewide as capacity and monitoring data allows. The framework has two overarching questions:
- How are forest conditions and associated forest health indicators changing over time? This question is the foundation of forest health monitoring. DNR will comprehensively map and quantify changes in forest structure, composition, and pattern from treatments as well as regeneration, growth, mortality and natural disturbances over time. This baseline information will be used by DNR scientists, as well as other partners, to assess changes and trends in key indicators of forest health and wildfire risk. Indicators include predicted fire intensity and severity, vulnerability to drought and insect mortality, wildlife habitat, and departure from resilient landscape conditions (e.g. ranges and patch sizes of dense vs open forest structure, species composition). Treatment need in planning areas and across eastern Washington will also be periodically updated.
- What are the outcomes of forest health treatments? Understanding how forest health treatments (mechanical, prescribed fire, and managed wildfire) affect the resilience of landscapes and communities is critical. In eastern Washington, this will be achieved in three ways. First, treatments effects on forest structure will be quantified through remotely sensed data and in the field by partners. Economic outputs will also be tracked. Second, models and indices will be used to quantify how treatments change forest health indicators, particularly predicted wildfire behavior, burn severity, and risks to homes and infrastructure. Third, the effects of treatments on subsequent wildfires, insect outbreaks, and droughts will be evaluated, as staff capacity permits. This will include opportunistically assessing the extent to which selected treatments reduced uncharacteristic wildfire severity and provided more options for wildfire management. In addition, DNR will maintain Forest Health Tracker as well as an up-to-date database of where treatments have occurred to address this question and track treatment implementation.
Monitoring and reporting of trends will be conducted at three distinct levels that reflect the spatial scales at which different forest health indicators are best measured. These include the regional level (all of eastern Washington), priority landscape, and treatment unit level.
Monitoring is a dynamic process will continue to evolve over time as forests, communities, objectives, and datasets change. The information and partnerships created through implementing this monitoring framework over time will be essential in collectively learning how to most effectively increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of our forests and communities.
Analysis and synthesis of monitoring data is important for progress reporting. For the framework above, baseline monitoring results and treatment tracking data will be compiled by planning area and summarized across eastern Washington every biennium as part of required progress reporting on RCW 76.06.200 to the legislature. View the latest progress report 2020 Forest Health Assessment and Treatment Framework (SB 5546 and HB 1784 report to the Legislature), including the full monitoring framework in Appendix E.
More monitoring resources
In addition and complement to DNR's framework there are other programs, tools, methodologies, and metrics relevant to monitoring forest health in Washington. These include:
- Ecological Integrity Assessment (EIA) - An approach to provide a standard “biophysical exam” that assesses how well an ecosystem is doing, including its component vegetation, soil and hydrology, as well as its size and interactions with the surrounding landscape. The EIA is designed to document and provide land and resource managers with critical information on factors that may be degrading, maintaining or helping to restore an ecosystem. Through a standardized scoring system based on a series of metrics, the results can be communicated in a simple scorecard representing a wealth of data. This information can then be used for setting conservation priorities, identifying restoration strategies, and monitoring the effectiveness of actions.
- National Association of State Foresters National Performance Measures identified to track progress nationwide on individual and cumulative state Forest Action Plan implementation.
- Northwest Forest Plan - Interagency Regional Monitoring Program - Evaluating the effectiveness of the Northwest Forest Plan in achieving its management objectives on federal lands. Monitoring focuses on important regional scale questions about older forests, populations and habitat of northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets, watershed health, federal agency relationships with Indian tribes, and socioeconomic conditions in communities closely tied to federal land.
- Washington DNR - Forest Insect and Disease Monitoring including annual interagency aerial surveys of forest health conditions and reporting.