Assessing recovery partner implementation of Lower Columbia recovery plan programs: an EF Lewis Rive

Year: 2020
Presenter/s: Katie Blauvelt
Symposium Session: 2020 - 09 A watershed in transition: Salmon recovery in the East Fork Lewis River
Topics covered: beavers, fish-cutthroat, fish-salmon, fish-steelhead, lessons learned, modeling, riparian, sediment transport, stream, and urban


The Washington Lower Columbia Salmon Recovery and Fish & Wildlife Subbasin Plan was the first locally-driven salmon recovery plan on the West Coast. Among a wealth of essential recovery information, the plan identifies actions designed to address threats that had taken southwest Washington salmonid populations to the brink of extinction. Voluntary in nature, the plan relies on partner programs at various levels of federal, tribal, state, local, and non-profit entities to implement the actions and achieve key biological objectives.
Fifteen years have passed since the recovery plan was first developed. Throughout the past 15 years, have partner programs met the expectations of the recovery plan? How central is the recovery plan to partner program operations? How do we measure the implementation of qualitative recovery plan actions? To help answer these questions, the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board commissioned a pilot study in the East Fork Lewis River subbasin to evaluate implementation of the habitat-portion of the recovery plan. PC Trask and Associates conducted the review in 2018-2019, which involved conversations with over 60 different staff from recovery partner programs, the collection and synthesis of numerous geospatial datasets to help characterize a landscape perspective of program implementation, and research on over 27 different habitat protection and restoration program processes. The final report depicts a unique story about a subbasin under immense pressures (population growth, development, and resource extraction) matched with immense recovery plan expectations (bringing five salmonid populations from very low or medium viability to very high or high viability).

Several key datasets provide a bases to evaluate how partner program activities have manifested on the ground by assessing temporal trends in forest cover and harvest activity, rural and urban development, impervious surfaces, and restoration and conservation actions. Additionally, subsetting these analyses to key habitat protection areas, like Critical Areas, Shorelines, and priority subwatersheds, provides important context about assumptions fundamental to the success of the recovery plan.

Given the intensity of threats, the East Fork Lewis River subbasin proved to be an ideal test-case to evaluate how well the mechanisms between the recovery plan and partner programs are functioning. Themes from interviews and data analyses were translated into key findings about habitat-related recovery plan implementation strengths, weaknesses, and gaps.

The first of its kind, this pilot study provides a unique perspective by evaluating how partner programs operate independently, how they relate to one another, and how well they collectively translate into recovery plan implementation. Identifying strengths and weaknesses of the recovery plan’s fundamental mechanisms is an important step in adaptive management. This study is a step forward in reconciling recovery plan expectations with on-the-ground program implementation.