A Long Term Ecological Monitoring (LTEM) System for Himachal Pradesh – A brainstorming

22 June 2017

By Joachim Schmerbeck

Figure 1: Participants of the brainstorming session worked in groups

While the world debates and searches sustainable ways of managing our world resources, the awareness about the importance of our natural environment for our well-being is rising. However, despite the international commitments (e.g. CBD), the information on the interaction between humans and ecosystems remain, especially on management levels, scares. Long term monitoring systems that can reliably inform managers on the effects of human impacts on ecosystems are often not in place.

India is one of the mega biodiversity countries (Mittermaier et al 1997), mainly on the account of its tropical parts. Many attempts were made since the colonial time to establish monitoring systems on national, state and local level. Many of them remained only for a short time and only a few are still maintained to some level (Tewari et al. 2014). Most of the long term forest monitoring systems in India focus on the monitoring of growth of timber species and only very few are designed to inform about ecosystem dynamics (Tewari et al. 2014) and hardly any allows for the monitoring of Ecosystem Services (ES).

Even though the Western Himalayas have not been declared as Biodiversity hotspots (Myers et al. 2000), they deliver essential ES not only for its residents but also for a huge population in the adjacent plains that again serve the entire nation with its agricultural production. However, the Himalayan region lacks data (IPCC 2007) that allows for a sustainable management that meets today’s challenges. The lack of long term data on ecosystem dynamics and the supply of ES does not only cause a lack of information for the management of the mountain forests of the Himalayan states, it also hinders these states to quantify the ES they supply to neighbouring states in the plains. As the ecosystem services are not quantified, these states face a challenge to be rewarded for the supply of various ecosystem services to various users.

Another field where a permanent observation of changes in the ecological set up is required is Climate Change. Mountains are more sensitive for changes in temperature then plain areas (see Pepin et al. 2015) and consequently are changes in ecosystems more likely. This seems to be true for the movement of global tree lines of which, according to Harsch et al. (2009), half are advancing since 1900 AD. However, observation plots in the Himalayas that can monitor such changes are very rare (see Harsch et al. 2009, fig. 1).

All this calls for monitoring systems that address the important information that decision makers and mangers of natural resources need to find the most sustainable pathways sustainable land management: Ecosystem dynamics, their drivers and the link to the supply of ecosystem services. However such complex data sets require many resources and will make the flow from data collection to analysis, publishing and decision making a challenge. In addition resources are limited and politicians need to make decisions fast. Therefore any long term monitoring system must be as complex as needed and as simple as possible.

The Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystem Services Project (HP-FES) of GIZ aims together with its partner, the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (HPFD), at the establishment of a Long Term Ecological Monitoring (LTEM) system in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Even though the pressure on the forest seem to decrease (Himachal Pradesh Forest Department 2005), the impact of humans on forest ecosystem is essential and their dependence on forest not less important.

To achieve the development of a robust system we thought of the following steps:

  1. Defining requirements that a LTEM for HP should fulfil
  2. Defining the aim of the LTEM together with partners and experts
  3. Agreement on an institutional set up for the LTEM that serves the requirements (Box 1)
  4. Defining which decisions are taken on state level and outline the information that is required to serve these decisions
  5. Outline the design of the LTEM with the help of global experience.
  6. Setting up the system including trial run
  7. Performing the first data assessment and analysis during the project duration

Box 1: Requirements for a Long Term Ecological Monitoring (LTEM) system in Himachal Pradesh

  • Information of direct use
  • Continuous
  • Basic
  • Robust
  • Few strong parameters / indicators
  • Easy to assess and analyse parameters
  • Trained staff (training prior to assessment)
  • Clear and precise manual for assessment and analysis

The situation in HP is as complex as indicated above and a LTEM system must address the same. We therefore defined requirements for the LTEM (Box 1) that will keep the system handy.

To define an aim and to get an idea about possible institutional set up, we organised a brainstorming session where representatives of the HPFD and national experts who work in the field of long term monitoring and GIS/remote sensing discussed these two issues.

The participants were put together in predefined groups to make sure that all types of organisations and expertise are equally represented in each group.

The groups were requested to work on the following topics to get closer to an aim for the LTEM:

  • Possible aim of a LTEM for Himachal Pradesh
  • Justification for this aim
  • Category that needs to be addressed (forest, biodiversity and ecosystem services)

In the following discussion it got quite clear, that ecosystem dynamics as well as the supply of ecosystem services should be addressed. Finally, the entire group agreed on the following aim:

“To understand the dynamics of forest ecosystem for developing appropriate management strategies to ensure sustained flow of ecosystem services for society”

This is obviously a very broad aim and needs further careful thinking about priorities and methodologies to narrow the assessment and analysis down to the most essential parameters. It also needs a clear idea, which decisions can be taken at the receivers end, meaning, what decisions the forest department is making on state level. However, that the aim addresses the understanding of forest ecosystem dynamics is an advantage that should not be underestimated. Understanding the dynamics of ecosystem includes their drivers and therefore the impact humans have on forest ecosystems. It also opens a window for the understanding, that forest ecosystem are dynamic, adaptive systems (see Messier et al. 2013) and bear options for future generations that might not be seen today. This aim also allows to link forest ecosystem dynamics and the supply of ES, as well as the management options and trade-offs involved.

The participants also brainstormed about an institutional set up, especially to ensure a long term allocation of fund that is not linked to the fiscal periods and requirements of the government administration. It got very clear in the following discussion, that much effort is wasted, if the system is not independently financed. Therefore, the following decision was achieved for a LTEM management body.

To Form a Society under HPFD with a Sufficient Corpus

Such a corpus (fund) has the advantage that it is managed by the society constituted by the government and the allocation of financial resources is not linked to budget lines as per the financial planning period of the government. This promises that permanent structures can be established and maintained. In addition, the responsibility and the knowledge required for keeping the LTEM system functional is not in the hand of one persons that will be in office only for a limited time period. A society with a governing body can maintain responsibility and knowledge across generations of members.

The brainstorming session provided a good ground for the next steps to be performed. We are currently working on the information that is most meaningful to be delivered by such a system and on the preparation of an international workshop in September where we want experts in the field of long term ecological monitoring to give these inputs to our work. We expect that it takes then another year for the system to be tested.


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Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (2005): Government of Himachal Pradesh Forest Sector Policy and Strategy 2005,

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2014): Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, Summary for Policymakers (

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