Estuary and Lower Columbia Habitat Monitoring and RME Plan Reviews

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This ISRP memo includes recommendations and comments on two separate but related documents: 1) Lower Columbia River Ecosystem Monitoring and Data Management, Project 2003-007-00 (Proposal #30015), and 2) final draft of the "Plan for Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation of Salmon in the Columbia River Estuary," August 2004 (Estuary RME Plan). The first is a project for habitat monitoring in the Lower Columbia River. The second is a plan intended to provide a strategic framework to conduct a research, monitoring, and evaluation program in the Columbia River estuary. The habitat-monitoring plan is based in part on the Estuary RME Plan. To place the review of the habitat-monitoring project in the proper context, Bonneville and the Council requested that the ISRP review the draft plan.

The Habitat Monitoring Plan is a significant improvement over the previous draft reviewed by the ISRP (ISRP 2004-9). It provides a logical, scientifically sound procedure for establishing a monitoring program in the Columbia River estuary and as such is fundable. The ISRP expressed a number of serious concerns about the proposal in its previous review. In the memo, the ISRP identifies its major concerns and discuss how well the current plan has addressed them. In general, most of the concerns have been addressed reasonably well. However, the ISRP makes several recommendations to improve the plan that should be addressed as the plan moves to implementation.

The Estuary RME Plan is a significant improvement over the draft Estuary RME plan previously reviewed by the ISRP (ISAB/ISRP 2004-1). The Estuary RME Plan, however, is still "a plan to develop a plan", a discussion about the desired elements of a plan, rather than a plan itself. Much work needs to be completed before a workable plan can be implemented.

The ISRP reiterates its support for a monitoring and evaluation plan for the Lower Columbia River Estuary. The estuary provides important habitats for downstream migrating salmon. Some scientific analyses have shown that restoration of estuarine habitats may be one of the principle means for increasing survival of downstream migrants. In addition, the 2000 Biological Opinion places emphasis on the estuary, calling for a monitoring and evaluation program to assess progress toward estuarine restoration. Unfortunately, despite its likely importance for salmon, little is known about how salmon use the estuary, the potential sources of mortality and reduced growth, and how habitats will respond to restoration efforts. Recent research is beginning to provide badly needed understanding of the importance of the estuary for salmon. For all of these reasons the ISRP supports establishment of a comprehensive, scientifically sound estuary RME program.