At the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s July 17, 2018 request, the ISRP reviewed a response from the Upper Columbia United Tribes for Project #2008-007-00, Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Program. The UCUT’s response is intended to address the Council’s recommendation from the 2017 Wildlife Category Review which incorporated the ISRP’s recommendation of “meets scientific review criteria (qualified)” (ISRP 2017-7, pages 22-26).
The ISRP’s qualification:
The project proponents agreed to submit a progress report for ISRP review in 2018. The report should:
- provide detailed responses to the ISRP’s eight questions from the preliminary review
- describe the status of updating management plans to include quantitative biological objectives for each representative cover type, and
- describe what a restored habitat looks like relative to the reference conditions.
As requested, the UCUT provided a progress report and a response to eight questions from our preliminary review. The ISRP appreciates the timely submittal of these documents and thoughtful responses. Although the documents address most of our qualifications and questions, some fundamental questions are not fully addressed. Consequently, the ISRP continues to recommend “meets scientific review criteria (qualified).”
The program provides a reasonable approach to assessing large-scale, long-term mitigation efforts. Although the ISRP provides specific comments for improvements to project methods in the full review memo, overall, the ISRP finds that the UCUT M&E program’s methods are scientifically sound.
The primary reason for the continuing “Qualification” from the earlier ISRP review is that the UCUT submission does not address Qualification 2: Status of updating management plans to include quantitative biological objectives for each representative cover type. The regional M&E program still needs to demonstrate that it will deliver data that enable assessments of progress toward quantitative biological objectives for individual Tribal restoration projects, ones that ultimately lead to improved actions that benefit wildlife. Adaptive management cannot occur until specific quantitative biological objectives are established.
The ISRP recognizes that quantitative objectives and adaptive management plans are best developed at the project level by the Tribal managers. However, there also needs to be coordination between development of individual property plans and the regional M&E program. This will ensure that needed information is being collected and evaluated. In their 2017 response to the ISRP’s preliminary comments, the UCUT indicated that: “The UCUT member tribes plan to meet extensively with the UWMEP principal investigators over the next 6 months to develop comprehensive QBO (Quantitative Biological Objectives) from each cover type from the existing reference site data as descriptors of Desired Future Conditions (DFC).” We also urge them to work collaboratively to develop adaptive management plans that include scheduled interim assessments for their individual restoration actions. We emphasize that special consideration will be needed to ensure that the M&E program is collecting information that can be incorporated into Tribal adaptive management processes. The ISRP is concerned that management actions could continue indefinitely with little or no detectable changes in approaches or results over time because the UCUT M&E plan does not fully mesh with the biological objectives of specific projects. Consequently, applied management actions by an individual Tribe may be useful but may also be a sub-optimal use of funds.
Example objectives include:
- A biological objective may be to restore ecological features needed for re-establishment of amphibians within 10 years after restoration is initiated. However, does the UCUT M&E plan collect the appropriate data to assess such an objective?
- For reforestation actions, an objective may be based on stems/ha of suitable trees at specific time intervals after restoration. Objectives need to be based on site productivity information and on rates of succession. They should not be statements of unsupported desired outcomes. Will the current UCUT M&E plan gather information on stem density or solely on community-structure of vegetation?
- A biological objective may be based on general successional paths known for many ecological regions. Does the UCUT M&E plan to collect information on these successional paths? What are the key indicator species and their abundance and/or distribution that need to be monitored to ensure restoration is proceeding?
- If a current restoration action has the potential to introduce invasive species, does the UCUT M&E plan collect the necessary information to assess species invasions?
- The long-term goal of the UCUT M&E is to make future conditions at restoration sites similar to reference sites. If so, the quantitative objectives and intermediate targets of restoration along the way need to be described to allow measurement of progress. There is no point in waiting for 50 years to declare that a project was unsuccessful before developing alternative actions to achieve intended outcomes.
For details, see the ISRP’s full review memo.