Field season preparation can begin as soon as the budget for a project has been allocated, and can overlap with the design phase. To prepare for the field season, you will need to: hire a crew, purchase all of the necessary field equipment, evaluate the feasibility of accessing sample points, and secure spots for your crew members at a field methods training.
The amount of time required to hire a crew should not be underestimated and, at a minimum, crew hiring should begin 3-6 months before data collection is scheduled to begin. Prior to advertising positions, project leads should have a good sense of budget and how many points need to be sampled in the upcoming field season so that position duration can be accurately described. If help with other field season preparation activities is desired (see below) consider having the crew lead start earlier than the other technicians. Additional things to consider prior to initiating the hiring process are crew member housing and transportation options. If you are able to provide housing or a BLM vehicle for field work, you may have more hiring options than if you are not able to provide these items.
Work with your AIM State lead to determine your hiring options. Crew members can be hired either through the federal hiring system or through a partner organization, but an assistance agreement must be in place to use the latter. Some hiring options involve more lengthy timelines than others, so it is best to initiate this process as early as possible to ensure that crew members are hired in well advance of the field season.
Click here to see a list of hiring tips from former project leads.
To begin collecting AIM data you will need to obtain all of the monitoring equipment necessary for collecting the core indicators. The type of equipment you will need will depend on whether you intend to collect aquatic data, terrestrial data or both, thus there are two separate equipment lists: the Terrestrial Master Equipment List and the Aquatic Master Equipment List. If you are planning on collecting data from supplemental indicators, you may need additional equipment that is not included in the equipment lists. Also note that sometimes it can be helpful to have more than one of some items in the event that something is lost or broken in the field.
Tablets and electronic data capture software
One of the most important pieces of equipment that you and your crew will use is your tablet computer! Different types of tablets and software are used for terrestrial and aquatic AIM data collection. Please refer to the sections below for tablet specifications by resource.
The Terrestrial AIM Team at the National Operations Center (NOC) strongly encourages individual field offices to purchase their own tablets. See the Terrestrial Master Equipment List 2-9-17 for more details on tablet specifications. If securing a tablet becomes a barrier to collecting AIM data, it may be possible to borrow a tablet for the season from the NOC. Please contact Joseph Halloran for more information on borrowing tablets.
Terrestrial AIM data is collected using the Database for Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment (DIMA) on Windows-run tablets. DIMA is a highly customizable software tool for data collection, management, and interpretation. DIMA is a free Microsoft Access database that can easily be used without extensive knowledge of Access. Data can be entered for common, nationally accepted vegetation and soil monitoring methods in either English or metric units. Please note however, that AIM data for the core methods must be collected using using metric units as a requirement for data ingestion. You can download version 5.3 of DIMA here. For additional DIMA support please visit the following links:
- General DIMA Tutorials
- DIMA Article Rangelands (PDF)
- Sage-Grouse Habitat Monitoring Forms in DIMA Tutorial
- How to Enable Macros in DIMA
Sometimes it is necessary to supplement electronic data with paper data sheets if a tablet crashes or is temporarily unavailable. Note that paper data sheets should not be used in lieu of electronic data capture and should be used for backup only. DIMA not only saves time but greatly increases the data quality! You can find pdf versions of the data forms here.
The aquatic AIM data collection application is designed to run on iPad systems. Please see details on iPad requirements and setup to determine exactly what you need for electronic data capture. If securing an iPad becomes a barrier to collecting AIM data, it may be possible to borrow an iPad for the season from the NAMC. Please contact Jennifer Courtwright for more information on borrowing tablets.
Aquatic AIM data is collected using the Stream And River Assessment Hub (SARAH) application. The SARAH application is a FileMaker iPad data application developed in conjunction with EcoTechSolutions. Data entry in SARAH should be intuitive to the user if they are familiar with the field protocol. Most layouts closely match to the protocol and do not require additional explanation. SARAH also incorporates multiple layers of quality control (QC) checks to help ensure that data are as accurate as possible. All aquatic AIM data should be collected using the SARAH application and any data recorded on paper data sheets must be entered into the SARAH application as soon as possible and prior to submitting final data for ingestion into AquaDat.
More information on iPad and SARAH use can be found in the Aquatic Data Management Protocol. Crews should read this document thoroughly prior to collecting data and consult it throughout the field season as questions arise. The Aquatic AIM Data Management Protocol illustrates and describes the main user interface screens of SARAH, the data entry workflow, and the built-in QA/QC checks to ensure that crews understand the errors and warnings that SARAH gives and when they can and can’t move on without resolving the errors. Finally, this protocol describes the data backup, pre-data submission meeting steps, and final submission processes, including the how to use the secondary field tracking system.
SARAH is revised every year to address any quirks that arise throughout the field season, and to continually improve data QA/QC and data entry efficiency. Updates to the application can be made during the field season if any serious issues arise. Questions about iPad or SARAH use should be directed to Jennifer Courtwright (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Helpful Documents and Links