In response to a request by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) reviewed the final report for the project, "Evaluation of Cumulative Ecosystem Response to Restoration Projects in the Lower Columbia River and Estuary" (project EST-P-02-04), herein called the Cumulative Effects study. The study, established in 2004, was conducted for the Corps’ Portland District by a collaboration of research agencies led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This is an ISRP Retrospective Review that examines the results reported for this seven-year (2004-2010) study. Although the report reviewed by the ISRP was subtitled, "Draft Annual Report," this is the ISRP’s final review of the study.
The primary goal of the study was to develop a methodology to evaluate the cumulative effects of habitat restoration actions in the lower Columbia River estuary. Objectives included (1) developing monitoring protocols; (2) developing the theoretical and empirical basis for a cumulative effects methodology; (3) designing and implementing evaluation of the cumulative effects methodology; and (4) developing an adaptive management process to coordinate and coalesce restoration efforts.
Following literature review in 2004, the study was implemented in phases between 2005 and 2010. Field work was conducted primarily at four restoration sites. Reference sites were included to match each restoration area. Marsh and swamp habitats were the focus of the study, and particular emphasis was placed on the forested swamp habitat, which had not been studied before. In addition to biological sampling, extensive work was conducted on topography and hydrology of the areas. Models were developed to estimate habitat availability for salmon, macrodetritus flux and export, and cumulative net ecosystem improvement. An adaptive management process was custom-designed for the Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program (CEERP) during 2006 and 2007.
The ISRP concludes that the study produced some excellent empirical data and results. An estuary sampling protocol manual (Roegner et al. 2009) for monitoring and evaluation developed by the study should be particularly useful. Many of the data produced deal with biophysical aspects of the ecosystem such as hydrology, geomorphology, and vegetation mapping. The cumulative effects of restoration projects were summed over a variety of these biophysical ecosystem processes. While these ecosystem studies are important to advance understanding of how the estuary responds to restoration efforts, the ISRP concludes that much more information is needed on how restoration activities affect use and survival of salmon in the lower Columbia River estuary. The Cumulative Effects study could then be more useful for planning further work, implementation of estuary restoration in support of salmon recovery and the BiOp, and informing adaptive management under the Corps’ program and the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program.
The Cumulative Effects study was a preliminary attempt to systematically select, develop, design, and test, in a limited way, an approach to effectively evaluate cumulative ecosystem response to habitat restoration projects. The outcomes of objectives 3 and 4, however, will only be as effective as the success in addressing objectives 1 and 2, that is, development of optimal on-the-ground protocols and methodologies. In addition, the protocols could have been more comprehensive, for example, by relating observations back to the salmon population level to the extent possible.
Finally, the ISRP provides suggestions to the authors for improving the format and content of the final report of the Cumulative Effects study, as well as detailed comments on Chapters 2 through 4 and Appendices A through J. In general, Chapter 2 provided a good synthesis of field work to date; however, reporting of fish results was limited. Chapter 3 provided carefully crafted suggestions for adaptive management phases, roles, and responsibilities for specified groups, and resulting work products. The authors clearly stated that for adaptive management to be successful cooperation is required among the primary funding agencies, stakeholders, and monitoring/research agencies. With respect to management considerations (Chapter 4), all critical uncertainties listed in the report were related to information gaps in estuarine ecology of juvenile salmonids relative to ecosystem restoration and habitat function. The ISRP advises that it is very important to address these critical uncertainties. Given the current gaps in information, future Cumulative Effects research and development recommended by the authors might fail to achieve the goals of CEERP.