Review of Umbrella Habitat Restoration Projects

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Comments Received:

Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program supports landscape-level habitat projects that identify, rank, select, and fund habitat projects in specific geographic areas. A subset of these projects (listed below) solicit proposals and offer funding in the form of a targeted grant program for their area. The Council refers to these as umbrella projects. Umbrella projects in this review include:

  1. Grande Ronde Model Watershed (Project #1992-026-01)
  2. Tucannon River Programmatic Habitat (2010-077-00)
  3. Upper Columbia Programmatic Habitat (2010-001-00)
  4. Columbia River Estuary Habitat Restoration (2003-011-00)
  5. Willamette Bi-Op Habitat Restoration (2009-012-00)
  6. John Day Habitat Flow and Habitat Enhancement (2007-397-00)

This Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) review of umbrella projects follows the Council’s recommendation from the 2013 Geographic Category Review to base funding decisions after 2016 on performance reviews every two to four years. Proponents of the umbrella projects submitted progress reports that address the Council’s recommendation. The ISRP used the progress reports to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of projects since the 2013 Geographic Review, paying particular attention to objectives, results to date, transparency of processes for project selection, and consistency of implementation among regions.

The Council welcomes public comment on the ISRP's reports and recommendations. Unless otherwise indicated, the Council will accept comments on the ISRP report for 30 days following the date of the report. The Council will consider all comments prior to making its recommendation to Bonneville. Please forward any comments to Kendra Coles.

Project Evaluations. The ISRP recommends that all six umbrella projects “Meet Scientific Review Criteria (Qualified).” All projects reflect improvement since the 2013 Geographic Review and are generally consistent in providing strategic implementation through transparent and equitable processes and in advancing partnerships and community outreach and engagement. Detailed comments on each of the six umbrella habitat restoration projects are provided in Section V of the report.

Programmatic Comments. Overall, the umbrella projects have made significant progress toward a comprehensive landscape approach (ISAB 2011-4) to restoration. Most notable was progress in more effective public engagement and developing organizational structures that support collaboration, integration, and leadership. Umbrella projects have helped to increase collaboration, coordination, education, and outreach within local communities. Although there remains room for continued improvement, the ISRP acknowledges that habitat conservation and restoration on public and private lands are complex and sometimes contentious issues in the Columbia River Basin. Also, all umbrella projects have generally developed well-defined and transparent processes for project solicitation, prioritization, and selection and are providing a range of services that support participants and partners. Some of these include oversight and administration of the project solicitation and prioritization process, technical assistance, tracking and record keeping for project funding and accomplishment, partner coordination and development, grant writing, and Program accomplishment reporting.

Less progress was evident for program-scale adaptive management and in development and application of a strategic ecological approach for “ridgetop to valley bottom” whole watershed restoration. The progress reports all reveal that adaptive management has not yet been implemented using the formal approach needed to more fully evaluate and improve restoration activities at a landscape scale. Also, none of the reports describe the status and trends of habitat or fish populations at a landscape scale in a way that could be linked to habitat restoration activities. Needed improvements in a whole watershed restoration approach include addressing upstream and upslope factors that can have major influences on meeting aquatic habitat restoration objectives.

The ISRP has identified several obstacles to evaluating progress through adaptive management. First, evaluation at a landscape scale requires quantitative objectives with explicit timelines that are expressed in terms of expected (hypothesized) improvements in habitat (outcomes) or Viable Salmonid Population (VSP) parameters. Second, evaluation at a landscape scale requires appropriate monitoring, access to monitoring data, and an explicit plan for evaluating and documenting outcomes. Such a plan will likely include collaboration with other groups in charge of monitoring, but a specific entity or partnership needs to be accountable for the overall plan to make sure monitoring adequately addresses the needs of the umbrella restoration efforts. The proponents of the umbrella projects and other large restoration projects may be best suited to do this. If monitoring is still not sufficient to meet the needs of the umbrella project, it should be noted in annual reports to the Council and Bonneville Power Administration. Third, monitoring and evaluation at a landscape scale may require an additional technical capacity beyond what currently exists for some umbrella projects. Fourth, reporting should be improved to document outcomes (not only the restoration actions but also changes to habitat and fish populations), identify lessons learned, and share knowledge via public engagements, targeted workshops, and peer-reviewed publications.

The umbrella projects include broad geographic areas and focus primarily on riparian and stream channel areas. For the most part, they follow ecological principles to increase effectiveness and efficiency of habitat protection and restoration work. However, a comprehensive, whole watershed/landscape scale approach for design of restoration programs is generally lacking. The ISRP urges refinement of strategies to more fully address important upstream and upslope processes and disturbance regimes (ridge top to valley bottom approach), influencing aquatic habitat quality and function (roads, vegetation, development, etc.). Also further elements, including expected changes in climate, human development, and density dependence, will need additional consideration in most projects.

Proposal for a Workshop and Pilot Project. Adopting a comprehensive landscape approach to habitat restoration is a new and complex undertaking requiring thoughtful leadership and active experiential learning. Accordingly, the ISRP suggests that a multi-day workshop is needed to resolve practical obstacles by bringing together restoration practitioners from all umbrella projects, other habitat restoration practitioners, research and monitoring teams, the ISRP, and the Council. The ISRP suggests that the workshop to develop an example of a rigorous landscape approach should focus on one umbrella project that has already made significant progress and could serve as a pilot for other projects to follow. The Tucannon umbrella project appears to be a good candidate as it already has many strong elements and is relatively manageable in size. Perhaps this workshop and pilot project approach could be the topic of a Council Science and Policy Forum in 2017 or 2018.