In response to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s October 5, 2018 request, the ISRP reviewed the report Grande Ronde Model Watershed Synthesis, 1992-2016 (GRMW Synthesis for project #1992-026-01) and considered the accompanying cover letter from the GRMW. This report is intended to address a condition that was placed on the project as part of the June 2017 Council decision regarding the performance review of the Fish and Wildlife Program’s Umbrella Habitat Restoration Projects. Specifically, the Council recommended that the GRMW develop a synthesis report that assesses “whether the actions and associated changes in the physical habitat have contributed to addressing limiting factors … and addresses, in a manner suited to the role served by this project, ISRP comments and qualifications on M&E and adaptive management [see ISRP 2017-2].” The Council’s comments on the GRMW project further suggested that content of the GRMW Synthesis reflect that Umbrella Habitat Restoration Projects are habitat implementation projects and not research, monitoring, and evaluation projects (RME). An important expectation was that the GRMW project would rely on and collaborate with other RME experts in the basin to provide an initial evaluation of measurable/observable biological and physical changes and trends that could be related to past restoration actions and/or to inform future actions.
ISRP recommendation: Does Not Meet Scientific Review Criteria
The Synthesis Report of the Grande Ronde Model Watershed (GRMW) clearly describes the history, organization, and number of projects implemented. The GRMW has been important in catalyzing an initially discordant community around the recovery of fish and in implementing a large number of cooperative restoration actions. The GRMW has revised assessments and plans as new information and ideas became available. However, the GRMW Synthesis does not address its primary purpose and the Council’s primary directive to provide evidence that “actions and associated changes in the physical habitat have contributed to addressing limiting factors” (June 2017 Council decision). To be clear, the ISRP recommendation of “Does Not Meet” refers only to the Synthesis Report and not the entire program. Most of the Synthesis Report is a simple listing of the categorical actions taken rather than an analysis of whether the actions taken individually or collectively were effective. As well, it does not identify the important lessons learned to improve future project success. The Synthesis Report provides virtually no analyses of either fish or environmental responses to restoration, analyses which were requested by the Council in June 2017, the ISRP review (ISRP 2017-2), and in at least four previous ISRP reviews over the last 12 years (ISRP 2006-6, ISRP 2007-12, ISRP 2013-11, ISAB/ISRP 2016-1 Appendix D). This information should have been available since experts from CRITFC, ODFW, NOAA, and OSU have conducted analyses and modeling in the watershed. While the GRMW might be successful as a social experiment linking stakeholders, evidence for ecological success is not provided in the GRMW Synthesis.
The GRMW’s Synthesis Report describes the proponent’s interpretation of the ISRP’s previous qualification: “What the ISRP envisioned for the Model Watershed was a data-driven approach to restoration, adjusting dynamically to new information about fish populations and restoration practices through an experimental design.” Following that paragraph, they observe that “An additional challenge, not mentioned by the ISRP, may be the fundamental shift in the identity of the organization that the adaptive management program requires: from a social experiment to an ecological one.” These are valuable insights and should be the basis for a frank discussion of project evolution and the expertise required for development of future administrative goals and staffing requirements.
Further to that, the ISRP believes that the GRMW and its partners need a specific project deliverable and adequate time and financial resources to provide an ecological assessment requested by the Council, using existing data and analyses. If BPA and the Council agree on the importance of a synthesis of “whether the actions and associated changes in the physical habitat have contributed to addressing limiting factors” (June 2017 Council decision), specific guidance on deliverables and adequate funding to synthesize available information will be required.
The ISRP appreciated the open dialogue with the GRMW at the October 2017 site visit and the 2018 State-of-the-Science meeting as well as the opportunity for feedback on the draft synthesis outlines. The ISRP continues to be available for dialogue to improve its understanding of the GRMW program and to clarify any scientific issues raised in its reviews.
Programmatic comment: The ISRP's concerns about the GRMW’s synthesis and effectiveness monitoring apply at a programmatic level and should be considered by the Council, BPA, and NOAA as they develop a regional habitat monitoring strategy. The ISRP’s approach to reviewing effectiveness M&E for habitat restoration efforts has long recognized that habitat restoration practitioners often do not operate at the spatial scale or have the scientific expertise, time, or financial resources to conduct effectiveness monitoring for their project. Consequently, the ISRP has recommended that restoration practitioners collaborate with federal, state, and tribal entities who are collecting data in the project area to evaluate habitat, fish, and wildlife conditions and trends. In other words, a restoration project should be linked to M&E projects and be required to use findings from the M&E projects, to the extent possible, to evaluate the effectiveness of restoration actions and to help identify future actions to address limiting factors. The justification for both the restoration and M&E projects depends on this collaboration and information sharing. However, resources must be dedicated to support these collaborations for the restoration projects to be effective and for the Program to document the benefits of mitigation investments.