Not “If” but “When”- Lessons Learned from Adaptive Management of Restoration in Portland Harbor

Year: 2023
Presenter/s: Lauren Senkyr
Symposium Session: 2023 - 11 Foresight in Adaptive Management
Topics covered: adaptive management and monitoring, lessons learned, riparian, and wood


Restoration requirements associated with the Portland Harbor Superfund Site spurred the construction of several habitat restoration projects on the mainstem of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. Four projects have been constructed as “restoration banks,” where the project developers intend to sell credits from their projects to parties that have legal and financial responsibility for restoration because of their past pollution. This banking model is similar to mitigation banking, but the projects are overseen by a Trustee Council made up of tribal, state, and federal governments, including NOAA.
While the banking model of habitat restoration is different in many ways from voluntary and community-based restoration efforts, it has interesting lessons to share on the topic of adaptive management. In the case of the Portland Harbor restoration banks, adaptive management is required, expected, and financially secured before a project is constructed.

In this presentation I will cover examples from four river restoration projects: Alder Creek, Linnton Mill, Portland General Electric’s Harborton Wetlands, and the Rinearson Natural Area. I will describe how the Trustee Council uses an adaptive management plan, monitoring, and performance standards as cornerstones of the adaptive management process. I will cover different forms of financial assurance established to fund adaptive management before it is needed, including escrow accounts and letters of credit. Lastly, I will share examples and lessons learned from the oversight and implementation of adaptive management activities on these four projects.

Every one of the four restoration projects that the Trustee Council oversees has undergone some adaptive management through an agreed upon process. Invasive vegetation management and replanting of native species have been the most common activities. However, the adaptive management process has also been used to evaluate fish passage concerns, sedimentation, and issues with adjacent landowners.

Our experience confirms what you might expect- adaptively managing river restoration projects collaboratively among multiple agencies, tribal governments, and for-profit entities is no easy feat. We’ve seen successes and failures in terms of process and on the ground conditions. Successes include securing up front funding for adaptive management, the comparison of monitoring data to agreed upon interim and final performance standards, early interventions in specific cases of poor plant establishment, and use of additional monitoring as an adaptive management technique. Challenges have included timing of data availability and reports, the time consuming nature of an iterative and collaborative adaptive management process, permitting and consultations, and of course Mother Nature. In sharing these examples, I hope to shine a light on how diverse disciplines, perspectives, and funding models can be brought to bear to make this buzz word a reality.