Natural Resource Condition Assessments (NRCAs) evaluate and report on the above for a subset of important natural resources in national park units (hereafter, parks). Focal study resources and indicators are selected on a park-by-park basis, guided by use of structured resource assessment and reporting frameworks. Considerations include park resource setting and enabling legislation (what are this park's most important natural resources?) and presently available data and expertise (what can be evaluated at this time?).
In addition to credible condition reporting for individual resources and indicators, NRCAs also strive to provide a meaningful discussion of overall findings and recommendations by park areas (watersheds, habitats, or other areas of interest to park managers). This helps to highlight emerging or cross-cutting issues and park areas and resources in greatest need of management attention. Science-based information delivered in NRCAs will assist park managers in their ongoing efforts to take an integrated (interdisciplinary) and strategic approach to resource planning and decision making. It can also be used by park managers to communicate current resource condition status to interested stakeholders and the general public.
More than 270 national park units include significant natural resources. Each of these parks is working to achieve the common NPS goal of protecting, restoring, and maintaining valued natural resources in good condition. They also strive to manage those resources within their broader ecosystem context.
To help accomplish this, an effort is underway to complete a NRCA for each of these parks. NRCAs provide park managers a snapshot-in- time assessment and report on current conditions, critical data gaps, and selected condition influences for a subset of their park's important natural resources. Focal study resources are selected on a park by park basis.
Study findings will assist a variety of park management activities with an emphasis on resource condition reporting to the public and park-level strategic planning exercises.
As of May 2013, NRCAs have been completed for 70 parks and are ongoing, at varying stages of completion, for more than 90 additional parks. Current plans call for funding a similar assessment at the ~110 other parks with significant natural resources over the next few years.
Relatively new and still developing NPS programs for State of the Park Reports, Resource Stewardship Strategies, and Vulnerability Assessments are benefitting from credible resource condition reporting that the assessments strive to deliver. Ad hoc uses of study findings have also occurred for things such as park special-use permit reviews and preparation of General Management Plans.
NRCAs rely on existing data and expert judgment drawn from a variety of NPS and NPS-partner sources. The graphic (below) highlights the "value added" role the assessments can play in interpreting and communicating technical science via simpler condition summaries and in forms that are more readily useful to park managers and NPS resource planners.
Credibility is achieved through good documentation of the data sets, study methods, and forms of reference conditions used; and, by discussion of level of confidence or uncertainty associated with condition findings.
NRCA defining characteristics include: