Comment on this report by November 16, 2012
The Council invites your comments on this ISAB review of three documents from the Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration, the agencies responsible for the Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program: a 2012 Synthesis Memorandum, a 2013 Strategy Report, and a 2013 Action Plan. We also invite your comments on the three documents. The agencies prepared these in response to the Council’s call, as part of the Council’s comprehensive review in 2011 of the research, monitoring and evaluation projects in the Fish and Wildlife Program, for "the responsible entities to complete an estuary-wide synthesis prior to the initiation of the review of habitat actions" (see reference). The Council then asked the ISAB to review that synthesis.
Written comments on the ISAB’s review report or the underlying synthesis documents are due to the Council by November 16, 2012 (see sidebar for how to comment). The purpose for calling for the synthesis and then the ISAB review has been to help the implementing agencies strengthen the overarching conceptual foundation and scientific soundness of the estuary restoration program, and to help them link specific actions in the estuary to the overall synthesis in the most effective way. We invite your comments to the same end. The Council will make use of the comments as it continues to work with the responsible parties in the estuary to improve and implement the estuary program. The Council will also make use of comments that help the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel review future habitat proposals for the estuary. Thank you.
ISAB review summary
At the Council’s request, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) evaluated three draft documents that summarize past research and guide future work of the Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program (CEERP): a 2012 Synthesis memorandum, a 2013 Strategy Report, and a 2013 Action Plan.
The three draft documents provide an effective overview of the current status of the CEERP. The authors have made an excellent effort to identify the relationship of the Synthesis memorandum to the Strategy report, which provides context for the subsequent Action Plan that through adaptive management will lead to an updated Synthesis.
The Synthesis is a well-written summary of the research history of the estuary that provides a basis for ongoing efforts. The regular communication among estuarine researchers and programs has contributed to rapidly improved understanding of the estuary in recent years. The estuarine research community has been actively developing methods that are proving useful in dynamic ecosystems, such as the estuary. Nevertheless, some aspects of the three documents would benefit from further explanation and additional details, as recommended by the ISAB in this report.
The ISAB’s key recommendations:
1. While the primary approaches to restoration are plausible, it is not clear that these will be sufficient to achieve the three specific objectives and the overall goal of the CEERP. More information on why the Program decided to focus on these approaches and specific objectives is needed. As the CEERP authors have indicated, additional evaluation is needed to determine if inferences generated in the Synthesis (Section 6) allow the conclusion that restoration is working to help recover salmon. To examine the question a focused symposium involving scientists from outside the Basin or a weight of evidence approach might be useful.
2. The Synthesis should clarify how the three key concepts supporting CEERP ("habitat opportunity," "habitat capacity," and "salmon performance") relate to ecological concepts of habitat extent, productivity, and carrying capacity that are typically used in salmon population dynamic studies.
3. More information about the method of estimating survival benefit units (SBU) to evaluate potential effectiveness of habitat restoration work is needed before the scientific merit of the overall approach can be fully evaluated. An independent scientific review of the method and process is recommended.
4. The Synthesis identified the very serious shortfall in action effectiveness monitoring for the estuary restoration projects. The ISAB concurs. New approaches to RME and action effectiveness monitoring need to be identified, scientifically evaluated, and implemented. CEERP has developed a number of very useful monitoring protocols. It would be helpful to confirm that these are agreed upon methods and that technology transfer is occurring. More detail on suggested methods for improved monitoring should be provided, so that others can follow the recommended approaches.
5. The Synthesis should include more discussion of the interaction with the upstream hydrosystem and ocean. All three habitats are tightly linked and of fundamental importance to juvenile salmon survival. Lack of understanding of hydrosystem-estuary and estuary-ocean interactions is likely hindering advancement of knowledge on limiting factors in the estuary and the effects of estuarine habitat restoration on salmon survival.
6. The Strategy document shows some relationships in jurisdiction graphically, but more discussion is necessary to convey how the different programs actually work together. It would be useful to discuss issues relating to restoration and provide steps for reviewing, revising, or creating a more structured process for prioritization with a landscape context. To be consistent with a true landscape approach, engagement is required with the public and other stakeholders who are not directly involved as project sponsors.
7. Given the acknowledgement of the critical role of coordination and diverse participation in the CEERP Strategy documents, an objective focused on the continued development or refinement of the broader governance/coordination process would be useful to make this point explicit and formalize the existing commitment.