1.1 Why do we need indicators?

1.1 - Why do we need indicators?

Environmental, economic, and social indicators are used world-wide to report on the condition of human, natural, and combined human-natural systems. Indicator frameworks vary depending on what is being measured and on the intended reporting audience. The National Research Council (NRC, 2000) identified two types of frameworks: those that measure the status or condition of the system, and those that seek to identify cause and effect relationships. Many contemporary indicator frameworks incorporate both condition indicators and indicators of pressures or influences. This combination allows for a condition assessment and an evaluation of what may be driving condition. This reflects a common aspect of these frameworks — that they are practical and intended to support decision-making, usually in support of restoration, regulatory, or sustainability goals. This combination allows for evaluation and reporting on system attributes that are important for watershed and regional residents and stakeholders, as reflected in regional and local goals.

For the Report Card, the selection, analyses, and interpretation of indicators were conducted in an open, transparent process, which provides an educational (and networking) opportunity for all involved. Choosing indicators that reflect conditions and understanding how they might change in response to various influences facilitates a better understanding of how actions in a specific region can affect watershed function and processes. The largest watershed within the Sacramento River Basin, the Feather River Watershed, was chosen as the focus for this first phase of evaluating status and trends in watershed condition.

For this focus watershed, we evaluated aspects of the whole system (social, economic, and environmental conditions), at the watershed scale, in order to help us better understand some of the relationships between these conditions and watershed management actions. The value of protecting and restoring watershed condition (and by inference, watershed functions) is in direct proportion to the services well-functioning watersheds provide. Assessing the value of watershed services requires development of the appropriate tools, such as the indicator system described here. We developed the Report Card to describe the status and trend of the conditions in our focus watershed. To the degree that data sources allowed, each of the science-based indicators were assessed relative to social targets.