NPCC Seeks Comments on Science Panel Review of
Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 12, 2012
More information about the method of estimating survival benefit units to evaluate potential effectiveness of
habitat restoration work is needed before the scientific merit of the overall approach can be fully evaluated.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is seeking comments on a recent Independent Scientific Advisory Board review of three draft documents that will help guide future work under the Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program.
The three documents - a 2012 Synthesis Memorandum, a 2013 Strategy Report and a 2013 Action Plan - synthesize past research findings and define future direction for estuary restoration. The Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Corps of Engineers, the agencies responsible for the Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program, developed the documents.
The ISAB review and three documents are available on the Council website: www.nwcouncil.org. Written comments on the ISAB's review report or the underlying synthesis documents are due to the Council by Nov. 16. The Council also invites comments on the three documents.
The Council plans to use the comments as it continues to work with the responsible parties in the estuary to improve and implement the estuary program. The NPCC will also make use of comments that help the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel review future habitat proposals for the estuary.
The Council asked "the responsible entities to complete an estuary-wide synthesis prior to the initiation of the review of habitat actions." The Council then asked the ISAB to review that synthesis.
The Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the CEERP to implement ecosystem restoration actions and research, monitoring and evaluation in the lower Columbia River estuary.
CEERP objectives include 1) increasing the capacity and quality of estuarine and tidal-fluvial ecosystems, 2) increasing the opportunity for access by aquatic organisms to shallow-water habitats, and 3) improving ecosystem-realized functions.
Primary approaches to restoration are to restore hydrologic connections between mainstem and floodplain areas, create and/or enhance shallow-water habitat, and reestablish native vegetation. The CEERP uses existing processes, programs, technical groups, and plans to complete the work.
The purpose of the ISAB review is to help the implementing agencies strengthen the overarching conceptual foundation and scientific soundness of the estuary restoration program, and to aid them in linking specific actions in the estuary to the overall synthesis in the most effective way.
The ISAB review addressed six questions posed by the Council:
In its review, the ISAB found that the three draft documents provide an effective overview of the current status of the CEERP. It also determined that regular communication among estuarine researchers and programs has contributed to a rapidly improved understanding of the estuary in recent years. Nevertheless, the ISAB identified some aspects of the three documents that would benefit from further explanation and additional details.
- Does the synthesis adequately summarize research and monitoring that have occurred or are occurring in the estuary? b. Specifically, does the synthesis describe scientifically sound methods and procedures, including standardized or compatible protocols that are being used in the estuary to evaluate the potential effectiveness of proposed habitat work?
- Does the synthesis describe the results of past research and monitoring?
- Does the synthesis assess levels of uncertainty and risk in the research, and monitoring and evaluation strategies?
- Are knowledge gaps and strategies for addressing the gaps identified?
- Do the CEERP documents explain: a) how the information is used to inform management decisions and priorities for restoration and project selection; and b) the roles of the various agencies and entities?
- Based on the synthesis information and related CEERP documents, is the work in the estuary sufficiently comprehensive in its attention to species important to the Council's fish and wildlife program? b) From a landscape scale, are the actions working to address the Council's fish and wildlife program and CEERP objectives?
Key ISAB findings and recommendations:
The ISAB review and three documents are available on the Council website: www.nwcouncil.org.
- While the primary approaches to restoration are plausible, it is not clear that these will be sufficient to achieve the three specific objectives and overall goal of the CEERP. More information is needed on why the CEERP decided to focus on these approaches and specific objectives. As the CEERP authors have indicated, additional evaluation is also needed to determine if inferences generated in the synthesis allow the conclusion that restoration is working to help recover salmon. ISAB suggested that a focused symposium involving scientists from outside the Columbia River basin, or a weight-of-evidence approach, might be useful to examine this question.
- The synthesis should clarify how the three key concepts supporting CEERP ("habitat opportunity," "habitat capacity," and "salmon performance") relate to ecological concepts of habitat extent, productivity, and carrying capacity that are typically used in salmon population dynamic studies.
- More information about the method of estimating survival benefit units to evaluate potential effectiveness of habitat restoration work is needed before the scientific merit of the overall approach can be fully evaluated. It recommended an independent scientific review of the method and process.
- The synthesis identified the very serious shortfall in action effectiveness monitoring for the estuary restoration projects. The ISAB concurred with this finding, and suggested that new approaches to RME and action effectiveness monitoring be identified, scientifically evaluated, and implemented. CEERP has developed a number of very useful monitoring protocols. It would be helpful to confirm that these are agreed upon methods and that technology transfer is occurring. The document should provide more detail on suggested methods for improved monitoring so that others can follow the recommended approaches.
- The synthesis should include more discussion of the interaction with the upstream hydrosystem and ocean. All three habitats are tightly linked and of fundamental importance to juvenile salmon survival. Lack of understanding of hydrosystem-estuary and estuary-ocean interactions is likely hindering advancement of knowledge on limiting factors in the estuary and the effects of estuarine habitat restoration on salmon survival.
- The strategy document shows some relationships in jurisdiction graphically, but more discussion is necessary to convey how the different programs actually work together. It would be useful to discuss issues relating to restoration and provide steps for reviewing, revising, or creating a more structured process for prioritization with a landscape context. To be consistent with a true landscape approach, engagement is required with the public and other stakeholders who are not directly involved as project sponsors.
- Given the acknowledgement of the critical role of coordination and diverse participation in the CEERP strategy documents, an objective focused on the continued development or refinement of the broader governance/coordination process would be useful to make this point explicit and formalize the existing commitment.
Comments are due by Nov. 16. Comments can be submitted by mail: Patty O'Toole, Program Implementation Manager, Northwest Power & Conservation Council, 851 SW 6th Ave., Suite 1100, Portland, Oregon 97204-1348.
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NPCC Seeks Comments on Science Panel Review of Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 12, 2012
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