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Title: An Evidence-Based Evaluation of the Cumulative Effects of Tidal Freshwater and Estuarine Ecosystem Restoration on Endangered Juvenile Salmon in the Columbia River: Final Report

The listing of 13 salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia River basin (hereafter collectively referred to as “salmon”) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, has stimulated tidal wetland restoration in the lower 235 kilometers of the Columbia River and estuary for juvenile salmon habitat functions. The purpose of the research reported herein was to evaluate the effect on listed salmon of the restoration effort currently being conducted under the auspices of the federal Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program (CEERP). Linking changes in the quality and landscape pattern of tidal wetlands in the lower Columbia River and estuary (LCRE) to salmon recovery is a complex problem because of the characteristics of the ecosystem, the salmon, the restoration actions, and available sampling technologies. Therefore, we designed an evidence-based approach to develop, synthesize, and evaluate information to determine early-stage (~10 years) outcomes of the CEERP. We developed an ecosystem conceptual model and from that, a primary hypothesis that habitat restoration activities in the LCRE have a cumulative beneficial effect on juvenile salmon. There are two necessary conditions of the hypothesis: • habitat-based indicators of ecosystem controlling factors, processes, and structures show positive effects from restoration actions, and • fish-basedmore » indicators of ecosystem processes and functions show positive effects from restoration actions and habitats undergoing restoration. Our evidence-based approach to evaluate the primary hypothesis incorporated seven lines of evidence, most of which are drawn from the LCRE. The lines of evidence are spatial and temporal synergies, cumulative net ecosystem improvement, estuary-wide meta-analysis, offsite benefits to juvenile salmon, landscape condition evaluation, and evidence-based scoring of global literature. The general methods we used to develop information for the lines of evidence included field measurements, data analyses, modeling, meta-analysis, and reanalysis of previously collected data sets. We identified a set of 12 ancillary hypotheses regarding habitat and salmon response. Each ancillary hypothesis states that the response metric will trend toward conditions at relatively undisturbed reference sites. We synthesized the evidence for and against the two necessary conditions by using eleven causal criteria: strength, consistency, specificity, temporality, biological gradient, plausibility, coherence, experiment, analogy, complete exposure pathway, and predictive performance. Our final evaluation included cumulative effects assessment because restoration is occurring at multiple sites and the collective effect is important to salmon recovery. We concluded that all five lines of evidence from the LCRE indicated positive habitat-based and fish-based responses to the restoration performed under the CEERP, although tide gate replacements on small sloughs were an exception. Our analyses suggested that hydrologic reconnections restore access for fish to move into a site to find prey produced there. Reconnections also restore the potential for the flux of prey from the site to the main stem river, where our data show that they are consumed by salmon. We infer that LCRE ecosystem restoration supports increased juvenile salmon growth and enhanced fitness (condition), thereby potentially improving survival rates during the early ocean stage.« less
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  1. Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
  2. Marine Sciences lab., Sequim, WA (United States)
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Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
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Country of Publication:
United States