Guidelines for monitoring and adaptively managing restoration of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead (O. mykiss) on the Elwha River

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As of January, 2014, the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River, Washington, represents the largest dam decommissioning to date in the United States. Dam removal is the single largest step in meeting the goals of the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act of 1992 (The Elwha Act) — full restoration of the Elwha River ecosystem and its native anadromous fisheries (Section 3(a)). However, there is uncertainty about project outcomes with regards to salmon populations, as well as what the ‘best’ management strategy is to fully restore each salmon stock. This uncertainty is due to the magnitude of the action, the large volumes of sediment expected to be released during dam removal, and the duration of the sediment impact period following dam removal. Our task is further complicated by the depleted state of the native salmonid populations remaining in the Elwha, including four federally listed species. This situation lends itself to a monitoring and adaptive management approach to resource management, which allows for flexibility in decision-making processes in the face of uncertain outcomes.


The Elwha Monitoring and Adaptive Management (EMAM) guidelines presented in this document provide a framework for developing goals that define project success and for monitoring project implementation and responses, focused upon two federally listed salmon species — Puget Sound Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and Puget Sound steelhead (O. mykiss). The framework also should serve as a guide to help managers adaptively manage fish restoration actions during and following dam removal. The document is organized into seven sections, including an introduction (Section 1), a description of the adaptive management approach (Section 2), suggested modifications to the existing restoration strategy developed in previous Elwha River restoration documents (section 3), specific descriptions of an adaptive management framework, including establishment of goals, performance indicators, and potential adaptive management responses to monitoring information (section 4), monitoring tools and methods for use in evaluating performance and project outcomes (section 5), and brief sections on data record keeping and reporting (Section 6) and an estimated budget (section 7).


The purpose of the EMAM guidelines is to propose (1) refinement of existing goals established in previous documents (e.g., Ward et al. (2008), U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce, and Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe (1994)); (2) an adaptive management framework, (3) specific trigger values for relevant performance indicators that guide the adaptive management approach, (4) a specific monitoring strategy for evaluating outcomes of restoration activities; (5) a data management strategy, (6) information needed for adjusting goals when observations indicate conditions are different from anticipated. When taken together, our proposed adaptive management guidelines rely upon setting goals and objectives for each species of interest, which are monitored by relevant performance indicators and measurable trigger values that define success within each phase of the project. The guidelines themselves are arranged in a hierarchy for each species of interest. The levels of this hierarchy are goals, objectives, performance indicators, decision rules, triggers, and decisions (i.e., management/policy response).


The monitoring and adaptive management approach provided is based on monitoring several categories of performance indicators, each containing associated ‘trigger’ values which, when met, alters restoration activities (e.g., hatchery releases and/or strategies) through four successive restoration phases. Performance indicators proposed in these EMAM guidelines are based upon Viable Salmon Population (VSP) metrics, including abundance, productivity, distribution, and diversity (McElhany et al. 2000). Trigger values for each performance indicator are developed for four different restoration phases: Preservation, Recolonization, Local Adaptation, and Viable Natural Population. These biologically-based phases each have a set of objectives that are based on resource management scenarios, including the dam removal project itself, which change largely based on the level of active management required and the degree, if any, of resource utilization. Thus, details of prescribed management actions for each phase are based upon different needs specific to that phase.


The creation of biologically-based phases is one of the major differences between our proposed EMAM guidelines and previously presented plans for Elwha River Restoration Project management. Changed largely in response to the recommendations of the most recent of three Hatchery Scientific Review Group project reviews (HSRG 2012), the goal-oriented phases replaced the previous system of temporal changes centered around the decommissioning of the dams (i.e., before, during, and after dam removal). By focusing on outcomes associated with rebuilding salmon populations instead of an engineering schedule, the guidelines are more amenable to an adaptive management framework and the ability for management actions to influence outcomes, particularly in the periods during and following dam removal.


Trigger values for each performance indicator were generally developed using existing data from the Elwha River watershed, the Puget Sound region, or other Pacific Northwest rivers (i.e., elsewhere in Washington State, Oregon, British Columbia) modified to be relevant for Chinook salmon and steelhead recovery in the Elwha River. By meeting all of the trigger value levels for all performance indicators for a set amount of time within a management phase, the guidelines call for moving to the next phase. This next phase has a new set of trigger values for the same performance indicators. For example, upon moving from the Preservation phase to the Recolonization phase, the trigger value for intrinsic potential increases. Intrinsic potential is a pre-defined estimate of the total extent of available habitat within a watershed for adult and juvenile fish, specific to the target species and is therefore a performance indicator of spatial distribution. By the final Viable Natural Population phase, the entire intrinsic potential of the watershed is being occupied by the species of interest. For those cases when a performance indicator is not exceeding the target value for a particular phase after a certain time period, the trigger values provided in this document, as well as a series of exogenous variables, are explored that may help explain why the performance indicator is not being met. These exogenous variables include variables that are not part of the suite of performance indicators, such as hatchery production, harvest, habitat, and ecosystem indicators. In these cases where the program is stuck in a particular recovery phase, the situation could be caused by the selection of inappropriate trigger values or unforeseen environmental conditions. If the former, adaptive management would call for existing monitoring data to be used for modifying trigger values to an appropriate level. If one of the exogenous variables is found to be preventing the program moving to the next phase, then appropriate changes to management would be advised.


For each performance indicator and many of the exogenous variables, a set of monitoring tools were proposed. Data standards were also proposed for data generated by each monitoring tool. Data management, record keeping, and reporting of monitoring and adaptive management activities and results are also outlined. Management of data from the focused monitoring program and documenting the outcomes of trigger value evaluations and associated decisions from the adaptive management approach are key components of the EMAM guidelines. Without a clear history of data generated and adaptive management decisions taken by managers, the ability to learn through adaptive management breaks down. In addition to the long time period involved, another complication is the fact that the data will likely be collected by different federal and state agencies, tribal staff, and others. Having a system of reporting developed should help alleviate potential problems.


The restoration of the migration route to spawning and rearing habitats upstream of the former Glines Canyon Dam represents a great opportunity for salmon on the Olympic Peninsula. By removing two aging structures, it will be possible for all 5 species of salmon and steelhead to return to wild stretches of the Elwha River and major floodplain habitat characterized by multiple channels, as well as significant portions of numerous tributaries. Measuring the progress of restoration, from the perspective of both salmon populations and the ecosystem upon which they depend, is a great test for a collaborative team of scientists. The normally challenging conditions of working in a steep gradient, high velocity wilderness river are exacerbated by the release of millions of cubic yards of sediment that had accumulated in the reservoirs. After the first two years of the dam decommissioning process, this release has changed the ecology of the river, estuary, and nearshore habitats downstream of the dams. Our goal in developing the guidelines described is to provide a roadmap for tracking what hopefully will become a successful outcome. If successfully implemented, this information should prove useful as others begin planning for the removal, alteration, or reconstruction of dams throughout North America and elsewhere, an inevitable outcome of an aging dam infrastructure.

Study Area

Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Guidelines for monitoring and adaptively managing restoration of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead (O. mykiss) on the Elwha River
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Contributing office(s) Washington Water Science Center, Western Fisheries Research Center
Description 10 p.
Larger Work Type Conference Paper
Larger Work Subtype Conference Paper
Larger Work Title Proceedings of the Joint Federal Interagency Conference
Conference Title Joint Federal Interagency Conference
Conference Location Las Vegas, NV
Conference Date June 28-July, 2010
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Elwha River
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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