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32nd Annual Arctic Workshop Abstracts
March 14-16, 2002
INSTAAR, University of Colorado at Boulder

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HEINLEIN, THOMAS A. National Park Service, Western Arctic National Parklands.
Wesser, Sara . National Park Service, Alaska Region Inventory and Monitoring Program.
Anderson, Blain . National Park Service, Alaska Region Inventory and Monitoring Program.

Biological Inventories and Vital Signs Monitoring in Northwest Alaska's National Parks


Heinlein, Thomas National Park Service, Western Arctic National Parklands,

         2525 Gambell, Anchorage, AK 99503

Wesser, Sara      National Park Service, Alaska Region Inventory and

Monitoring Program, 2525 Gambell, Anchorage, AK 99503

Anderson, Blain     National Park Service, Alaska Region Inventory and

Monitoring Program, 2525 Gambell, Anchorage, AK 99503

The USDI National Park Service (NPS) has embarked upon an ambitious plan to incorporate science-based decision making into Park resource management, through the Natural Resource Challenge (NRC) program. One important aspect of the NRC is to complete baseline biological inventories and create ecological "vital signs monitoring" programs in every NPS unit that contain significant natural resources. In northwest Alaska, five National Park units have been combined to form the 21.4 million acre Northwest Alaska Inventory and Monitoring Network (NWAN). One of four networks in Alaska, the NWAN encompasses vast, pristine areas that include Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Within these Park units, there are a number of unique biogeographic features such as the Brooks Range, Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the Kobuk and Noatak Rivers, and the archeologically rich beach ridges of Cape Krusenstern. The NWAN holds great potential as an outdoor laboratory to gain scientific insight regarding a number of Arctic-related issues such as global climate change, arctic haze, and the deposition of persistent organic pollutants.

NWAN Parks are relatively new additions to the NPS System, with all of the Network Units being established in 1980. To date, no comprehensive inventory efforts have been undertaken, and there are few data available that accurately access baseline biological conditions. After a thorough review of existing information and a prioritization of needs, the NWAN initiated biological inventories in 2001. Inventories are scheduled for the next four years and will target specific information gaps. The goals of these biological inventories are:

1. To document, through existing data and targeted field investigations, the occurrence of at least 90% of vertebrate and vascular plant species expected to occur in NPS units.

2. To describe the distribution and relative abundance of species of special concern, such as Threatened and Endangered species, exotics, and other species of special management interest, occurring within unit boundaries.

3. To provide the baseline information needed to develop a monitoring strategy and design, tailored to specific park threats and resource issues.

Projects currently underway include inventories of vascular plants, small mammals, and montane-nesting birds. Preliminary data show significant range extensions for several species of small mammals and the discovery of at least two vascular plant species never before documented in North America. Additional projects are proposed to inventory non-vascular plants and develop a plant community classification system for NWAN.

The second phase of the NPS I&M Program is the development of a "Vital Signs Monitoring" program, (designed to build upon the knowledge gained from baseline biological inventories), to provide long-term monitoring for key indicators of change. The Vital Signs Monitoring program will be designed to focus on a number of issues affecting NWAN Parks including ecosystem responses to global climate change, arctic haze, and airborne pollutants. The NWAN Vital Signs Program is scheduled to receive initial funding in 2003.

Preliminary planning is underway to design a thoughtful, inclusive monitoring program that will compliment existing arctic research efforts. A current example of this cooperation is a shared air-quality monitoring project between the NPS and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to conduct air and water quality monitoring within Noatak National Preserve. The project will establish important baseline information regarding the accumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPS), mercury, and other heavy metals and will result in the construction of permanent air sampling stations that will be valuable to future vital signs monitoring efforts.


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