At the Council’s September 23, 2011 request, the ISRP reviewed a response for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s proposal titled Ceded Area Priority Stream Corridor Conservation and Protection (Umatilla Tribe Protection and Capital Acquisition; BPA project #2008-207-00). The project intends to focus on securing permanent protection of priority anadromous fish core habitats in the Grande Ronde, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and John Day River watersheds through conservation easements and capital acquisitions of fee title. The proposal states that continued pressure from development and commodity based resource management threatens to seriously degrade watershed productivity and function.
The ISRP reviewed an earlier version of this proposal in June 2009 (ISRP 2009-20) and requested a response. The ISRP noted that the project is potentially beneficial to both anadromous and resident species, is the major project for land acquisition under the Accords, and, as the proponents’ reference, land acquisition is generally more cost-effective than easements. However, the ISRP found that not enough detail was provided in the proposal to fully assess potential benefits to fish and wildlife. The CTUIR provided a response to the ISRP’s concerns.
After reviewing the response, the ISRP finds that the proposal meets scientific review criteria (qualified).
The ISRP states that the process proposed for prioritization of sites for acquisition is a reasonable starting point for an acquisition program. The response by the CTUIR to the initial ISRP review of this proposal explains with reasonable completeness how the EDT/QHA modeling exercise, in conjunction with subbasin assessments, were used to identify priority locations for conservation. Certainly, this information used in the prioritization process should not be viewed as definitive. Subbasin assessments were completed nearly a decade ago as part of the subbasin planning process and site-specific limiting factors may have changed in the interim. In addition, the EDT/QHA modeling is based on incomplete information and the uncertainty associated with these estimates is not addressed in the scoring protocol. Nonetheless, inclusion of these estimates does indicate that there is some linkage between acquisitions and benefit to the focal fish species. Until more current habitat data are available, and the models themselves are improved or replaced with better ones, the proponents have likely done the best they could.
Qualifications are related to the inability of the ISRP to fully evaluate the adequacy of the prioritization process due to the lack of an acquisition implementation plan and an insufficient (or perhaps insufficiently described) RM&E program to assess the biological condition of the acquired sites and the contribution they make to subbasin-scale population performance. Although the CTUIR has completed the first step in developing a scientifically sound conservation plan, the second step is substantially missing from the proposal. In order for the acquisition strategy to be successful, a detailed acquisition implementation plan that specifies the sequence of priority acquisitions and contingencies for dealing with problems, such as unwilling landowners, must be developed. This plan will be critical to the success of this effort because, for example, the benefits of several upstream conservation acquisitions may be seriously compromised if a downstream "bottleneck" to productivity remains. In such instances, if the bottleneck cannot be addressed in a timely and cost-effective manner, other candidate sites may assume a higher priority. There also may be combinations of acquisitions that provide synergistic interactions, increasing the overall benefit to salmon more than would be expected based on a simple summing of the benefits of each site individually. The prioritization implementation plan should utilize the available tools (EDT/QHA or the "Hillman Method") to evaluate the relative benefit of various combinations of the high priority properties. Development of an acquisition implementation plan that provides this site-level review of the important properties for acquisition and the benefit to fish populations associated with various combinations of properties is required for the ISRP to conduct a thorough technical evaluation of the acquisition process.
The process that will be employed to assess the benefits achieved through property acquisition and how this information will be used to improve the prioritization of potential acquisitions in the future was incompletely described. Some description of how the existing monitoring efforts in these four subbasins will provide information that indicates the effectiveness of the acquisition parcels should have been included. These acquisition efforts will not be the only restoration activities occurring in these subbasins. Presumably, habitat restoration projects will be occurring throughout the area and many of these projects will not be at locations acquired through this program. Therefore, fish population metrics expressed at a subbasin or watershed scale cannot provide an adequate indication of the effectiveness of the acquisition program. Some monitoring at the acquired sites will be necessary to determine if these locations are providing the anticipated benefits to the focal species.