The Development of Regional Priorities for Salmon Restoration in the Coastal Watersheds of the Pacific Northwest (Cascadia)
by Charley Dewberry
Section 1: Introduction
This project initiates the development of regional priorities for the restoration of Pacific salmon. The area of interest is the Pacific Northwest coastal watersheds from north of the Sacramento watershed (San Fransisco) to the Canadian border with the exception of the Columbia River watershed.
All parts of the landscape are not equally important for the production of Pacific Salmon. Within watersheds, salmonid species used different portions of watersheds for spawning and rearing (Li et al. 1987). This is true both historically at the century level and today reflecting not only the historic patterns but also the effects of human development within the watersheds. Different river watersheds also have different levels of salmonid productivity reflecting different geologies and climates and also reflecting human activities over centuries. These facts have been largely ignored until recently in designing and implementing restoration projects. Most projects were designed and implemented at the site scale rather than at the watershed scale (Frissell and Ralph 1998). What little emphasis was placed on prioritizing sites was usually expended identifying the worst sites and targeting them for restoration.
This project expands prioritization of Pacific salmon to the regional landscape scale (Map 1). From a regional perspective, some watersheds are more important than others for the restoration of Pacific salmon. Some watersheds historically were better suited to salmon production. Some watersheds currently have healthier populations or more diverse life histories of salmonids than other watersheds in the region. In addition, some watersheds are more easily restored than others.
Why a regional strategy and not just state or watershed strategies? During the last decade a new paradigm has emerged emphasizing protecting the best areas as the initial step in restoration (FEMAT 1993, Doppelt et al. 1993, Dewberry et al 1998). Within watersheds, "hot spots" of high production occur (Reeves et al. 1998, Dewberry et al. 1998). These areas are critically important as fish populations decline in watersheds or during periods of floods or droughts (Dewberry et al. 1998). Without protection of these critical areas it is likely that we will continue to lose ground no matter what else we do. This strategy has become widely accepted in the Pacific Northwest. So strategies within watershed are recognized as crucial for the recovery of salmonids.
The advantages of statewide strategies are that state agencies for the most part are currently the entities that manage and monitor the populations of salmonids. Establishing priorities at the state level makes sense. Within states the watersheds, can be ranked based on goals and objectives determined by each state. The only obvious problems are watersheds which are in more than one state such as the Klamath watershed (Oregon and California).
However, leaving all strategic planning to the state level misses an important opportunity. There are a number of strategic issues that are best addressed at the regional level, such as within the Pacific Northwest as a whole, which watersheds are most critical to anchor recovery efforts in the region. This question may reveal important roles that watersheds in particular states play that were not considered at the state level. This is not a unique idea to this project. A similar project with complimentary goals has been completed for the Puget Sound by Chris Frissell and others (1999). In fact, the whole notion of an environmentally significant unit (ESU) as part of the ESA process is a concept rooted in the same logic. The ESU's are the basic regional unit identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Some of these ESU's cross state boundaries. The region is the appropriate level to determine the goals for ESU's.