The challenge of communicating monitoring results to effect change
SINCE ITS INCEPTION, the National Park Service (NPS) has been charged with preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the United States for future generations. It is only recently, however, that the NPS has fully embraced the need to understand and describe the ecology of parks. The infusion of an ecological perspective into the natural resource management of the national parks is what separates today's park management from much of that which preceded it (Sellars 1997). The guiding principles set forth by the agency's National Leadership Council as part of the Natural Resource Challenge (NPS 1999; hereafter "the Challenge") shepherded these perspectives into present NPS culture and practice. Ultimately, the insights, common goals, and collaborations we describe in this essay have all been made possible by the vision and funding of the Challenge, the most recent high-water mark for embracing science within the NPS. In this paper, we discuss a special collaboration enabled by the Challenge, in which an inventory and monitoring (I&M) network (National Capital Region Network; NCRN), a research learning center (Urban Ecology Research Learning Alliance; UERLA), and a cooperative ecosystem studies unit (Chesapeake Watershed CESU) partner (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; UMCES) coalesced around a common goal: to collect, analyze, and interpret data in national parks, and to promote learning and understanding. We describe a set of tools and principles for integrating and communicating science that we believe have broad utility in the practice of natural resource stewardship. Furthermore, we stress the iterative and collaborative nature of communicating results and how the process of communication leads to shared investment and stimulates new areas of scientific inquiry.