The proposal and response materials for this longstanding project (now downsized to include only the Lemhi SWCD area) report the tasks accomplished but do not give reviewers a clear picture of the extent to which those tasks have improved habitat conditions and/or fish populations. Also still unclear is how far along they are in meeting their long-term goals, how much have they accomplished, and how much needs to be done.
In response to past ISRP comments, project staff in a previous proposal committed to develop a more unified monitoring and evaluation program. Yet the current proposal and response make it clear that project personnel are struggling with M&E, as discussed below.
The question of where they are in the overall model watershed plan has not been satisfactorily answered, especially in any quantitative sense. Projects ready for implementation in FY 07 should be funded as well as administrative efforts focused on monitoring, including developing and using an analysis approach that would allow a substantive assessment of the entire project's success in terms of benefits to fish. Technical lessons learned should be summarized. Funding beyond FY 07 should be dependent upon evidence that the project is focused on realizing the greatest benefit for the resources invested and is using appropriate effectiveness monitoring through the analysis and adaptive management phases. Comments below are intended as constructive criticism. Reviewers note that considerable assistance in dealing with these M&E problems should be forthcoming from the Integrated Status and Effectiveness Monitoring Program (ISEMP) project 200301700 that is doing work in the Upper Salmon. Its scope is the design and evaluation of monitoring tools for salmon populations and habitat in the Interior Columbia River Basin.
The Project Monitoring Report for FY 05 that was included in the response did provide some specifics that contrast with the generalities in the proposal. The project has largely divorced itself from fish, using the rationale that anadromous fish in the watershed are controlled by out-of-basin factors. "Habitat" becomes the surrogate, perhaps not inappropriately. But rather than being applied to aquatic habitat that is valuable for resident salmonids (and thus for anadromous fish rearing in future if runs increase), the term "habitat" has become a nebulous entity. The key attributes for salmonids that are vital and easily measured (like maximum water depth and bank shading) were not recorded. The Project Monitoring Report examined 16 sites funded by BPA. Most were riparian fencing, presumably a subsample of the approximately 50 miles of fencing that the proposal indicates have been installed since 1994. Information was gathered by photo monitoring, greenline survey, and "datasheets." This approach appears reasonable if amended as described above. It was clear from the report that such monitoring is in its embryonic stage. Absent was any summary of what worked and what did not, and any discussion of why. Reviewers could see no evidence that such a report was integrated into the project to help direct future efforts.
The current plan includes some pre-project monitoring, implementation monitoring in year 1, then monitoring every 5 years for 10 and 15 year contracts. This means only a few views of a project. No end-of-project monitoring is described, nor any planned response if results are not satisfactory, or if unanticipated opportunities arise. Page 18 of the response says, "Analysis has not yet been determined." Yet this is the key element of adaptive management, suggesting that the entire point of monitoring has been missed.
Salmon data provided do not show clear separation between wilderness stream redds (Big Creek) and the Lemhi but this is the kind of comparison that should help provide an assessment of the habitat treatment protocols used in the Lemhi Basin. The sponsors produced what seems to be an honest assessment of data for fish abundance before and after the habitat work was implemented. Comparison of redds in other non-treated basins and the Lemhi Basin is not perfect in that they cannot eliminate the possibility that out-of-basin effects are different for populations in these basins; assessment efforts should include consideration of the probability of this alternative. In addition, the fish data show no benefit of the habitat work, so at least three alternative explanations are possible; (1) the habitat work has not been effective in increasing productivity, (2) the work that has been done is nowhere near enough to cause increased productivity, or (3) the wrong changes were implemented. Sponsors have the responsibility to sort out these and other explanations for the apparent absence of a response.