The ISRP believes the proposed criteria for evaluating the technical merits and feasibility of watershed/habitat projects represent an important and useful method of screening new projects and evaluating ongoing projects for funding. In this report we focus on the specific request from the Northwest Power Planning Council to examine the procedure for subbasin prioritization and the criteria for rating on-the-ground projects.
The criteria are an excellent start at defining the approach to selecting watershed/habitat projects for funding. The methods and criteria include many of the evaluation features recommended by the ISG in Return to the River and the ISRP in its programmatic review of the Fish & Wildlife Plan (ISRP Report 97-1), including the very important role of peer review in improving projects through constructive criticism. As it stands, a major deficiency in the current document is the sample proposal, which, in the ISRP's view, is a good project summary but lacks the documentation that is needed in an actual proposal. Proposers should be provided with a more complete example.
Another difficulty is that proposal solicitation will take place in advance of a basin-wide synthesis of information and prioritization that will guide implementation of measures in the Fish & Wildlife Plan. Both proposers and proposal reviewers must have an agreed-upon view of the technical criteria that define good and poor habitat. Delaying completion of these criteria and definitions until the FY1999 review process, as suggested in the document, is risky. In one sense, this document may place the "cart before the horse" by attempting to define criteria to protect the best remaining habitat without fully specifying what attributes of the habitat make it stand out above other areas.
Nevertheless, the ISRP agrees that watershed/habitat project proposals and evaluations should be:
- Based on a clearly stated set of objectives that address one or more key elements of the Fish and Wildlie Plan.
- Grounded in a thorough watershed assessment that recognizes the importance of protecting or re-establishing normative conditions.
- Aware of the need to avoid harm to non-target species while enhancing conditions for target species.
- Cost-effective, with a minimum of annual operation and maintenance costs.
- Subjected to an unbiased peer review to determine the technical need for the project and the likelihood that it will succeed.
The procedure for prioritizing subbasins, as it is currently drafted, does not provide enough detail for determining which watersheds are best, which watersheds can be fixed, and which watersheds should not receive restoration funding because the potential for recovery is low. The ISRP cautions against "writing off" any subbasin because of its current condition; such a strategy may lead to further loss of isolated small populations that are an important part of the metapopulation structure of the species. Although the strategy as written emphasizes protection over restoration, it seems very likely that the majority of funding will go toward habitat improvement projects rather than acquisition of riparian and floodplain areas. However, a process for acquiring such areas should be given serious consideration.
The ISRP suggests that an explicit conceptual framework for matching watershed/habitat projects to the extent of alteration be adopted, such as the one proposed in the NRC report Upstream. A diagram of the framework is included in this report.
The ISRP suggests a modified matrix for on-the-ground project evaluation. The matrix is based on continuously variable numerical scores for each of a series of evaluation criteria. Evaluations should be limited to technical experts with no direct scientific or institutional connection to the project in question. Recommendations for funding or no funding should accompany each numerical score so that proposers can understand the basis for evaluation.
Finally, the document does not explicitly acknowledge that the ISRP will also be reviewing all Fish & Wildlife Plan projects annually. The ISRP will be looking for technical details describing rationale, experimental or management design, sampling methods and analysis, monitoring and evaluation, qualifications of participants, and relevance to specific measures of the Fish & Wildlife Plan. The ISRP may or may not agree with CBFWA recommendations, but agreement is much more likely if technical details are supplied by proposers and used by CBFWA to assess their overall merit. It is for this reason that the example in the document should contain details adequate for an objective scientific evaluation. Additionally, the ISRP recommends that similar criteria be used to evaluate proposals pertaining to resident fishes.