In response to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s May 2, 2022 request, the ISRP reviewed the report, The Grande Ronde Model Watershed: Integrating Science into Restoration Implementation and Adaptive Management (GRMW 2022 Synthesis; for project #1992-026-01) and considered the accompanying cover letter from the GRMW. The GRMW was initiated in 1992 as a model watershed to restore salmon and steelhead habitat on public and private lands in the Grande Ronde and Imnaha River basins in northeastern Oregon, including the city of La Grande. Over these thirty-years, the GRMW and their partners have initiated nearly 900 habitat restoration projects. The projects have evolved from small fencing and instream structure projects using traditional approaches to large floodplain restoration projects covering several kilometers using process-based techniques and the latest science.
This ISRP review is part of a sequence of reviews of 1) the 2017 Umbrella Habitat Restoration Project proposal, 2) the 2018 GRMW Synthesis Report, 3) the 2021-2022 Anadromous Fish Habitat and Hatchery proposal, and 4) this 2022 GRMW Synthesis Report. This synthesis report was requested to address a condition that has spanned these multiple reviews and was originally 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. In that 2017 review, 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 also suggested that the GRMW Synthesis focus on habitat implementation rather than research, monitoring, and evaluation (RME), a guidance that applied to all umbrella projects.
Recommendation: Meets Scientific Review Criteria – Conditional
The ISRP finds that the 2022 “conditional” recommendation from the AFHH Review and recent reviews (2017) still applies. The ISRP considers the 2022 Synthesis Report incomplete because it does not evaluate the extent to which “actions and associated changes in the physical habitat have contributed to addressing limiting factors.”
The ISRP commends the GRMW for its continued efforts to address the Council’s recommendations to develop a synthesis of the GRMW’s development and accomplishments over 30 years. Its adaptive management process, the Grande Ronde Basin Atlas Process, and Stepwise Process for the prioritization and design of restoration actions are impressive accomplishments. The 2022 Synthesis Report adds information on project implementation, lessons learned, and adaptive management, and it describes a framework for future monitoring and evaluation. The 2022 GRMW Synthesis Report includes a case study of the Woodlee project that illustrates a potential future evaluation approach.
Nevertheless, the 2022 GRMW Synthesis Report is incomplete because it does not provide evidence that restoration actions and changes in physical habitat have addressed and improved limiting factors. The ISRP agrees with the GRMW that evaluating the status, trends, and recovery of ESA listed fishes is beyond the scope of the existing GRMW program. However, ample information and evidence are available to meet the Council’s recommendation (e.g., summary data in the Atlas, numerous publications from the area, life cycle models, reports and proposals of cooperators). The ISRP suggests the GRMW could demonstrate their contributions to addressing limiting factors by summarizing 1) the spatial extent and proportion of targeted habitat conditions the GRMW has restored and 2) the major findings in publications and technical reports for the Grande Ronde subbasin. Other syntheses in the region could provide useful examples, such as the integrated habitat reports of the Upper Columbia River Salmon Recovery Board.
The ISRP's dialogue with the GRMW in recent years has improved the ISRP's understanding of the accomplishments and evolving challenges that the GRMW has encountered. The ISRP sees great potential for the project to evaluate their progress in addressing limiting factors using available information and data from 30 years of restoration, research, and monitoring in the Grande Ronde subbasin.