Filling Out a Report

Volunteer Manual 2019

Click here to download a blank monitoring datasheet, however we recommend printing the field-ready monitoring datasheet to view previous data and enter new data. You can write in this year's updates to the datasheet when you are in the field monitoring, then enter your data online through your POC account. At the end of the data entry process, please upload a scan or picture of the filled in field-ready datasheet as your "raw" data.

The POC monitoring report provides a “snapshot in time”, taken in one or possibly two visits when the plants are reproductive. If the population has previously been monitored, try to visit the population within 10 days of the former visit date to ensure consistency. However, if the previous monitoring date was not during a reproductive time, it may be advisable to change the date. Discuss this with POC staff.

Lead monitors fill out the Monitoring Form. Monitors are responsible for completing the Monitoring Report.  Other members of the team may take leadership roles in coordinating site visits, following the protocols, etc. All approved monitors for a site and species are given that assignment and can check the previous reports online, but only the lead monitor should enter data. In advance of monitoring, monitors should log-in to the POC website and print out the most recent reports for field reference. You can also view and print a map.

Refer to previous monitoring reports for each subpopulation. This is especially important for how plants are counted (e.g., stems or clumps), GPS coordinates, associates, threats, invasive species, and directions. Check each item to ensure all data are updated for the current year. If the information has not changed for GPS coordinates, associate species, or directions, write “same as previous report” in the appropriate section. For GPS we encourage updating coordinates at least every 2-3 years, but see SECTION 2 below for more details. For associates, if you indicate “same as previous report,” check species off on your copy of the previous report that you take in the field and add any new species. Submit this marked copy with your monitoring form if you don’t wish to recopy the list.

Respond to every question. Write ‘unknown’ or use provided fields for NA or ‘Don’t Know’ if you do not know.


Genus, Species, and Variety: Use the species name assigned to you for monitoring. If there are multiple plant groupings (subpopulations) spread over a wide area at a site, with the closest plants further apart than 50 meters, record each on a separate monitoring form as Subpopulation 1, 2, etc. Use the same EOR# and site name. Use the same subpopulation number as established in previous years, or indicate ‘new’.

EOR#:  The Element Occurrence Record number (EOR) is the unique identifier used by POC to track locations of monitored species. Multiple subpopulations can have the same EOR. This number will be provided on your previous report or will be filled in later by staff. If it is a new population, write “new”.

Landowner/Land Manager:  Is the site on FPD, park district, or private land?  Be as specific as you can. The land manager may differ from the owner (e.g. CFC manages Baker’s Lake, which is owned by the Barrington Park District). The land manager is typically an agency or organization rather than an individual.

Plants in Subpop Found: Please fill out a report even if plants are not found as these data are important. If you were able to search the previously known population area, please provide GPS reading(s) for area searched, as well as associate species, threats, invasive species, and management for the searched area (all but section 3). If your search was not based on a specific, known location, fill out just sections 1 and 8. Your notes should explain things such as the habitat searched, the information you used to search, and when the species was last seen, if known.


Before you fill out this section, you’ll need to determine where plants are located. Search the area where plants were located in the past, as well as any adjacent areas that seem suitable. Place flags around the perimeter of the population. Use as many flags as needed to see the shape of the population. Flagging plants inside the boundary may help in counting plants or clusters of plants. Then collect GPS and distance information. See Figure 1.

GPS:  Coordinates are required for new POC subpopulations or annual species, and for existing populations at least every 2-3 years. If plants have not moved, you may select ‘GPS is the same as before’, and the previous reading will be carried over.

Indicate the coordinate system and datum your GPS unit uses. We prefer coordinates collected in the coordinate system decimal degrees, using the datum WGS 84. (The readout will look something like N42.06229° W088.14495°.) If your GPS unit is using different settings, indicate them on the form (under Other:) and we will convert. If known, record accuracy in meters. You can review GPS instructions.

Distance Covered by Population: Measure the population at its widest points E-W and N-S. Visualize the population enclosed in a box that contains all the edges (see Figure 1). Either stand at, or line up with, the farthest plants at every direction point. Use a meter tape to measure the population’s area or calculate the area of the population by pacing (see Pacing Exercise). Your paces should remain even - walk naturally, in a comfortable gait. Use a compass to keep in a straight line.

If the population covers an area too large to measure by tape or pacing, POC staff can calculate distances between points based on the GPS coordinates. This should only be done very large populations. Hand drawn maps are not required, but they can be useful.

Figure showing where to shoot GPS points for oddly shaped subpopulation
Figure 1. Diagram showing a hypothetical population greater than 13 meters in diameter. GPS readings are collected at farthest plants found in all cardinal directions, and distance is measured at the widest points of the population on a North-South, East-West axis. If the population were smaller than 13 meters, only a center GPS reading would be taken. N/S and E/W measurements would be done the same way.



Today’s Soil Condition: Is the soil flooded, saturated, moist, well drained, or dry?  The physical condition of the soil can have a large impact on plants. Mark the option that reflects the soil condition at the time you are monitoring.

Growth Form: Check the POC website for the growth form designation (e.g., stems, clumps, rosettes) of the species you will be counting, or use the same unit from previous reports. If the growth form on the website differs from what was used in the past, indicate in the notes section whether that creates a discrepancy with past counts. Contact POC staff with questions. See Figure 2 for examples of how plants are counted.

  • STEM: a stalk emerging directly from the ground or from the base of the plant, with at least some space between stems (Examples: trees). Even if the stem branches above its point of emergence from the ground, it is still considered a single stem.
  • CLUMP: a cluster of two or more stems arising from the ground at the same point (Examples: some grasses, sedges and shrubs). Clumped plants may have more than one stem, but the clump should be counted as a single plant. Distinguishing clumps can be challenging in some species. Discuss with POC staff if you are unsure.
  • ROSETTE: a circular-shaped vegetative plant form, usually a dense cluster of basal leaves (Examples: dandelions, thistles, violets). A flowering stem bolts from the center of the rosette when the plant matures and flowers. Regardless of whether you find a vegetative rosette or a rosette with a flowering stem, mark “rosette”. If the plant you are monitoring does not fit any of these categories, mark “Other” and describe how the plant is growing and what unit was counted.
Image showing stem, clump, and rosette growth forms
Figure 2. Stems (left), clumps (center), and rosettes (right) are three distinct ways of counting plants.


Plant Count Range & Total Number: Count the exact numbers of stems, clumps or rosettes if there are 100 or less. We encourage exact counts even for larger populations. However, you may estimate a range of plants if more than 100 stems are present. If there are significantly more than 800 plants, give your best estimate of the number of plants. You can estimate the total size of large populations using the Estimating population size protocol. Whenever you estimate, note how this was done (e.g., transect method) on the last page of the monitoring form. Include a drawing if it clarifies your method.

Reproductive State: Monitoring during flowering (or spore-producing) time is the norm. However, your species may have flowering and fruiting individuals at the same time and sometimes there may be both flowers and fruits on the same plant. Indicate the state you found plants in. As you count plants, keep track of how many have flowers and/or fruits. These are reproductive individuals. Divide the number of reproductive plants by the total number of plants counted.

Example: 32 flowering, 2 fruiting, & 66 vegetative plants counted. 34 reproductive/100 total=34% reproductive

If you are estimating the number of plants, use the percentage of reproductive individuals derived from the sample you counted. If you are counting only flowering/fruiting plants because you are unable to identify juveniles, note that 100% of the counted plants are in the reproductive state.

On occasion your plants may be totally vegetative. If there are no fruits or flowers, indicate vegetative. If in the rare instance that monitoring is done after flowering and fruiting, when no reproductive parts are visible, answer “Don’t Know” because in this case, it is unclear whether the plants were reproductive.

Juveniles Present: Are there seedlings or immature vegetative plants with the same leaf characteristics as the adult individuals within the population area?  It may take time and close inspection to determine this. You may need to move other vegetation aside to look near the ground. If you are not sure whether you’ve found a juvenile, it is best to check “Don’t Know How to Identify” and to exclude them from your count. Annual plants do not have juveniles even when some individuals in the population are reproductive. If you are able, take a photo of a seedling or immature plant. Include juveniles in your total count if you know how to identify them and can determine their number.


Refer to the most recent monitoring report for comparison. Record at least the dominant native plants, those most numerous within and 1-2 meters around the population. At a minimum, enter the three most abundant trees, three most abundant shrubs, and five most abundant herbaceous species. Scientific names are preferred, but you can use common plant names if necessary. On your first visit, the land manager/steward/POC staff can help if you are not familiar with all the plants. If you don’t know a plant species, don’t guess; just write down the names of the plants of which you are confident. If the associate species are the same as those that are listed on the last monitoring report, you may write “Same as previous report.”  You can check species off on your copy of the previous report that you take with you in the field and add any new species.


Invasive species can be exotic or native, but are characterized by their negative effect on native plant species. See the Invasive Species List and reference past reports for your population to see which species could be considered an invasive threat.

Total Brush Encroachment: These are woody plants that may be impacting the population. Estimate the percent of the population area affected by their stems or the shade that they cast. Look for small woody stems as well as larger shrubs. An example of a native woody that can be invasive is grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa).

  • Invasive woody brush encroachment less than (<) 1 meter tall: The impact of any invasive woody brush less than one meter tall is estimated here.
  • Invasive brush/tree encroachment greater than (>) 1 meter tall: The impact of any invasive woody brush greater than one meter tall is estimated here.

Degree of Threat of Invasive Plants: First estimate the total impact of each woody species you considered invasive in ‘Total Brush Encroachment’ above, regardless of height. Then list all other herbaceous species that may be invading the population, estimating the percent of the population area affected. If confirming the absence of an invader, select ‘None’. This data is use for research projects when monitors are asked to report on a specific subset of species, but can also be used to report notable absences (e.g., honeysuckle present for many years has disappeared).  Otherwise, monitors should only report on the invasive species present.


Degree of Threats:  Evaluate all threat categories, evaluating the percent of the population affected by each one. If there is no impact, select 0%.

  • Deer browse: Estimate the percentage of individuals of the species you are monitoring (% of study plants) that have been browsed. Next, estimate the percent of all individuals, including the monitored species, in the population area and in the immediate vicinity that have been browsed. Look for jagged and chewed off stems. You can note other evidence of deer – deer beds, droppings or bark rubbings – under ‘Threat Notes’.
  • Erosion:  Estimate the percent of the population area impacted by erosion.
  • Authorized/unauthorized trails: Does either type of trail threaten the plant population under study?  Unauthorized trails can include deer paths and ATV trails. Authorized trails are purposefully constructed by a land owner, and include signed trails, roads, railroads, and paved/gravel paths. Estimate the percent of area impacted. Use the “Threat notes” section to provide detail on authorized/unauthorized trails.
  • Other: If you notice additional threats, choose a category in the dropdown menu that best represents the threat and select the percent population impacted. Use the “Threat notes” section to provide additional detail of threat. “Other” threats include, trampling, browse, animal impact, duff, construction/other land use, etc. For example, if insect browse is a threat to the population, “browse” would be the category selected from the drop down menu and “insect browse” and any other detail would be provided in the “Threat notes” section.

Threat notes: Include any notes here that clarify threats you observed.


Record management that has occurred within the past year that directly impacts the population (i.e., occurred immediately adjacent to or within the population). Record the percent of the population affected if known. Only record management that you can observe or know about from a steward, land manager, or from personal experience. If you’re not sure, indicate ‘Don’t Know’.

  • Brush or invasive tree removal: Look for freshly-cut stumps within and immediately surrounding the population, as well as recently piled brush in the vicinity. Although fire is also a brush management tool, manual/mechanical brush removal is what is being referred to here. Indicate which species were removed if known.
  • Herbaceous invasive removal:  Look for piles of invasives that have been pulled (e.g., sweet clover, garlic mustard), or brown stems that have been treated with herbicide. Indicate which species were removed if known.
  • Burning: Look for ash on the ground, which would indicate recent burning, or an absence of leaf litter (woodland) or duff (dried matted prairie vegetation).
  • Mowing: Look for evidence of evenly cut stems and fresh clippings within the population. Only include mowing that has clearly been done as management. Inadvertent mowing (i.e. trail mowing accidentally affecting a POC population) is a threat to the population and should be noted in the “Threats” section.
  • Other management: Note any other management that affects the population, and indicate the percent of the population affected. Examples might include hydrological remediation or deer culling.


Directions are required for first time visits, new subpopulations, or annual plants whose location may change. Be as specific as possible. This information will be used for many years by other monitors and/or researchers. Use as many permanent landmarks as possible in your description (large boulders, roads, buildings, etc.). Start by providing a general location and then get more specific. Refer to the nearest town, route, and parking area. Use local landmarks to create a "trail" for the person to follow, for example: "take main trail east for 100 m to large boulder on right and go south for 50m."  If previous directions are effective and no edits are needed, write "Same as last report". Amend or edit previous directions if needed.  

Notes:  Insert any additional observations you think are relevant, such as reasons for observed changes to population metrics. If you estimated the number of plants in your population, detail your methods here.

Monitor names and roles:  Include names of all monitors and whether they are volunteers, volunteer stewards, interns or staff. If a new, unassigned volunteer participates, please notify POC and ask that person to complete a Confidentiality Form and CBG application. Provide contact information for that person so that POC can follow up.

Using a GPS Unit


Image of GPS unit with buttons labelled
Figure 3: The buttons as they appear on the GPS Etrex unit.


  • POWER allows you to turn the unit on or off.
  • BACK allows you to move to the previous screen
  • ZOOM KEYS (UP & DOWN) allow you to zoom in and out on the map
  • MENU allows more custom ability to each unit
  • THUMB STICK allows you to navigate between options and select an option or open a menu

To Turn the GPS Unit On/Off:

  • Press the POWER button. (Please do not forget to turn the unit off whenever it is not in use as the batteries run down quickly.)
  • To verify the unit has connected to the satellites, press the POWER button once. When the GPS bars in the lower right corner are solid, your device has acquired satellites.
  • Getting a good signal:
    • Moving around, especially in a straight line, helps the satellites locate you faster
    • If you are under a dense canopy, it helps to track satellites in a nearby open area first, then bring unit (with the power still on) back to the plant population
  • Accuracy: GPS unit will show accuracy at the top of the screen under the SATELLITE option
  • Try to get about 3-8m accuracy in open areas (if the error is a very large number at first, keep the unit on and wait a few minutes for the error to reduce as you walk around)

To Take a Reading (see Figure 1 for where to take readings in the population):

  • From the main screen, use the THUMB STICK to highlight the option SATELLITE
  • Hold GPS unit at a place you want to take a reading, select option with THUMB STICK
  • Record the reading on the Monitoring Form - °N is the top line (7 digit number) and °W is the bottom line (7 digit number). The northerly reading corresponds to latitude and the westerly reading corresponds to longitude. POC GPS units are set up to read in the coordinate system Decimal Degrees with datum WGS84 (if you don’t know the current settings on your unit view the “Check/Adjust Settings” section below in the Advanced Instructions).


Things to Know about the Garmin eTrex 10 Unit:

  • Screens: The eTrex 10 has one main screen with many different options available. Use the MENU button to change the order of the options. POC GPS units are set up with the following options to appear first when the units are turned on.
    • MapPhoto of GPS Unit Menu
      • Shows your current position on a map.
      • Tracks your movements with
        a trail
      • Can view the location of waypoints and shows the direction you need to travel
        to reach a point.
      • Options:
        • ZOOM KEYS (UP & DOWN) will allow you
          to zoom in and out.
    • Mark Waypoint
      • Mark a waypoint
      • See current fixed location for recording purposes
      • Enter a GPS coordinate to find
    • Waypoint Manager
      • View, delete or navigate to a waypoint
      • Think of waypoints as you would a visual marker on a landscape; you can navigate to them or use them as a position reference
    • Satellite
      • See current fixed location and GPS accuracy for recording purposes
      • See number of satellites currently connected to
    • Setup
      • Change the Time format
      • Change the Display contrast to make the screen easier to view
      • Change the GPS Units of measurements (see below in “Types of data”)
        • Position format (aka coordinate system)
        • Map datum
        • Units
  • Types of data: POC has preferred ways for you to collect this data (see below), but if you have collected GPS using one of the other coordinate systems or datums, indicate this on your monitoring form and we will convert.
    • Coordinate systems are different formats used for recording a location (aka POSITION FRMT)
      • Decimal degrees (e.g. hddd.ddddd) (POC’s preferred coordinate system)
      • Degree Minute Second (e.g. hddd°mm'ss.s")
      • UTM (e.g. dddddd)
      • Minute Decimal (e.g. hddd°mm.mmm)
    • Datum is the way the data are projected onto the earth (aka MAP DATUM)
      • WGS-84 (POC’s preferred datum)
      • NAD-27 (Conus)
      • NAD-83
    • Batteries
      • GPS units use a great deal of power and can drain batteries very quickly
      • Turn off the unit when you no longer need it
      • POC units may come with rechargeable batteries, so don’t throw batteries away
      • POC provides an extra set of batteries with each unit. Just in case!


To Check/Adjust Settings before Taking a Reading (crucial before recording coordinates):

  • From the main screen use the THUMB STICK to highlight and select the SETUP option
  • Using the THUMB STICK navigate down to POSITION FORMAT and select this option
  • There are two settings: POSITION FORMAT and MAP DATUM
  • Select POSITION FORMAT, and using the THUMB STICK highlight and select hddd.ddd°
    • This is Decimal Degrees and the requested format for POC
  • Select MAP DATUM and using the THUMB STICK highlight and select WGS 84 (requested format for POC)

Use GPS to Locate a Population from Previously Collected GPS Points or Create a Waypoint:

In order to relocate your population using GPS, you will need to enter the coordinates from a previous monitoring report into the GPS unit you bring into the field.

POC transforms all GPS data into WGS-84, decimal degrees, which should minimize the need to re-set your unit. However, you may wish to locate populations using readings in a different datum, in which case you must ensure that your GPS unit is set up for the correct datum of the coordinates you enter. Follow directions below.

To enter coordinates written on the monitoring form into the GPS unit:

  • Check the unit’s setup menu to see what coordinate system and datum the GPS unit is currently set to.
  • Adjust the coordinate system (aka POSITION FRMT) and datum (aka MAP DATUM) so they match the coordinate system and datum of readings you are using. See “Check/Adjust Settings” and “Types of Data” above.
    Photo of GPS Unit Coords
  • From the MENU SCREEN highlight MARK WAYPOINT and press the THUMB STICK to select
  • Scroll up until the reading in the middle is highlighted, press the THUMB STICK to select
  • Using the THUMB STICK use the left and right arrows at the bottom of this screen to highlight subsequent digits in the coordinate number
  • At the location number you wish to change, use the THUMB STICK to highlight and select the number you want to replace it with in the number pad
  • Scroll to the next number you want to change, repeat. Go through all the numbers until the reading is correct.
  • Once finished, scroll down to highlight DONE and press the THUMB STICK to select. When back at the Mark Waypoint screen, scroll down to select DONE again. This will save your waypoint. Write down the title of the waypoint you created (the number next to the flag), so you can navigate to that point.

When entering UTM/UPS coordinates, the first two digits are “1” and “6”. Do not change this as this represents “16”, the standard UTM zone for Illinois. The actual coordinates starts after the “T”.


Tracking Back to an Existing Waypoint (i.e. a waypoint you created):Photo of GPS Unit Tracking

  • Press BACK button to bring up MAIN MENU page
  • Highlight WAYPOINT MANAGER and press THUMB STICK (you are now in Waypoint Page)
  • Using THUMB STICK select the desired waypoint
  • GO should be highlighted already, use THUMB STICK to select
  • The Map Page appears and you are now ready to be guided to your waypoint. On POC units, there will be four boxes at the top of the Map Page
    • DISTANCT TO DEST – Displays the number of meters to arrive at your destination
    • GPS ACCURACY – Gives you the current accuracy of the GPS Unit
    • HEADING – Tells you the direction you are currently moving
    • BEARING – Indicates the direction you need to walk to reach your destination

The GPS Compass does not function in the same way as a conventional compass. It is not sensitive enough to detect which direction you are facing initially though it will provide a helpful direction once you are moving across the landscape. For this reason, use an actual compass to tell you which direction to go before you begin.

Example: Looking at the compass screen on the GPS unit, I see that the arrow is pointing straight to “N” with a distance of 6.66 m, indicating that I need to walk 6.66 m North to find my plant. However, when I look at my own compass, I realize that I am facing South. Therefore, first I adjust my direction by referring to my actual compass and turn to face North. Then I begin moving North while watching my GPS compass screen. I begin to see that my ‘distance to population’ is decreasing, so I know I’m moving in the correct direction.

Flora tracker logoUsing Flora Tracker App

The Flora tracker app is a GPS tool designed for Plants of Concern citizen volunteers. Through this app, you can save detailed waypoints and later to navigate to them.

Our Flora tracker app is currently only compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The app requires IOS 9.0 or later. Click here to download the Flora tracker app

The main screen of the Flora tracker app
The home screen of the Flora tracker app

Creating a waypoint at your current location:

  1. Click the button located in the top right hand corner of the home screen.
  2. Enter a name and description for your waypoint. Press “Save”. A notification on the screen will indicate that your waypoint has successfully been saved.

Note: Your waypoint will be saved in WGS-84. This is the reference system used by Plants of Concern

Viewing previously saved waypoints:

  1. From the home screen, press “Favorites” (star icon located in the bottom left corner) to view a list of your saved waypoints.
  2. To view coordinates for a specific waypoint, press the information icon located on the right. The coordinates of your waypoint will appear.

Navigating to a previously saved waypoint:

  1. View previously save waypoints by pressing "Favorites" (star icon located in the bottom left corner of the home screen).
  2. Click on the waypoint that you would like to navigate to.
  3. A map showing your current location (blue circle) and your marked waypoint (the red tack) will appear. The top of the map shows the distance from your current location to your marked waypoint.
  4. Zoom in (place your two fingers on the screen and move them outward) to view the most direct path to your waypoint.

Editing a description or deleting a waypoint:

  1. From the home screen, press “Favorites” (located in the bottom left corner). A list of your waypoints will appear.
  2. Press the information icon (located on the right side on the screen) corresponding to the waypoint you would like to edit or delete.
  3. The description and coordinates of your waypoint will appear on the screen, along with the options to edit or delete.

Chicago Park District Site Assessments 

Here are links to pdfs for Chicago Park District Site Assessments:
Rapid Color Guide
Plant Descriptions