Counting salmon essential measure of recovery efforts

December 03, 2000

Either count the fish or count on many more decades of debate about what's helping and what's hurting Pacific Northwest salmon.

That's what leaders of a yearlong effort to determine the best ways of monitoring salmon conservation efforts say in a report issued Dec. 1. In Washington state alone, there are 200 organized efforts by agencies, tribes and environmental groups to count fish but none are being done as part of validation monitoring - a scientifically designed plan that establishes cause-and-effect between conservation efforts and responses by fish.

"Indeed, there are many scientists and managers who resist the idea of counting salmon as being too complex and costly," says John Calhoun, director of the University of Washington's Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, Wash. The study focuses on Northwest salmon but has implications for monitoring conservation plans across the nation, including those for Atlantic salmon and other wildlife.

Calhoun convened a group of 15 North American scientists who've spent their careers studying Pacific Northwest salmon or are experts at monitoring natural resources. Led by David Peterson, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a UW professor, and Dan Botkin, a research scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the group is the first of its kind not affiliated with implementing any specific salmon plan, yet one charged with looking at what all plans should consider as part of monitoring results.

"Most conservation plans and most permits issued by federal agencies are based on habitat conditions, which assume that if the habitat is adequate, then the number of salmon will improve," Calhoun says. "Yet there is no evidence that the billions of dollars spent on conservation practices are having a positive impact on salmon numbers, a negative impact or no impact."

"There is no other field of science or engineering that I can think of where we purposefully ignore counting," says Botkin, who joined panel members Dec. 1 to review the group's findings at a conference titled "Habitat is Not Enough."

The report has relevance for the half-dozen major salmon conservation initiatives and programs in the Northwest, none of which currently counts fish to validate conservation strategies. The U.S. Forest Service's Northwest Forest Plan, in effect since 1994 and the largest of any program in place right now, doesn't count fish to validate its effects. Neither does Oregon. Gov. Gary Locke's salmon recovery strategy for Washington doesn't provide for it. The independent scientists asked by the governor to review the plan, a review that is expected to be done in January, have draft copies of the report being issued today.

A typical monitoring effort under these programs might be to measure water temperatures after requiring that buffers of trees be left along streams during clearcutting in order to shade streams and keep them cool enough for fish. The validation monitoring advocated in the report would involve counting fish before, during and after the changes in buffers, or comparing the numbers of fish in a waterway with buffers to another without. "It's the only way to determine cause and effect," Peterson says.

The time needed and complexity of validation monitoring are reasons many scientists and managers are reluctant to embrace it. "To really work we need a commitment to sampling and data collection that is long term, 30 years and more," Peterson says. He said it helps to put monitoring in the perspective of the life cycle of chinook salmon, a fish that spends up to eight years at sea. Even if really high-quality habitat has been created, it will take several generations to know if it is really helping.

Society can't wait that long without taking action, therefore, the report suggests ways of using adaptive management strategies while needed information is gathered.

The report then outlines key measurements to determine the effects of restoration efforts, harvesting, hatchery releases and dams on representative runs. Those measurements become a formidable list ranging from tallying the returning adults of each species, to determining how many were caught at sea, in freshwater and by hatcheries, to assessing ocean conditions. The cost - particularly for agencies that may have funding cycles as short as one or two years and where priorities are often in flux - is another concern. The report includes examples of successful uses of validation monitoring, including in Alaska, which could help the Northwest choose the most cost-effective route, Botkin says.

"You can't say monitoring is too expensive, not when you've spent $3 billion and have no results," he says.
Calhoun, 360-374-3220; Botkin, 805-452-3988; Peterson 206-543-1587

Want copy of report? Reporters call Sandra Hines. Your readers can call the UW's Olympic Natural
Resources Center, 360-374-3220


John Calhoun, director of the University of Washington's Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, convened the following panel to consider the scientific basis for counting fish to validate salmon conservation measures. He can be reached at 360-374-3220.

The Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, Wash., is part of the UW's College of Forest Resources and College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences. This project was sponsored by the center and the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Daniel Botkin, co-chair
Research professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

David Peterson, co-chair
Research biologist with U.S. Geological Survey and a University of Washington professor of forest

Fred Allendorf, 406-243-5503
Professor, University of Montana

Richard Beamish, 250-756-7029
Senior scientist, Pacific Biological Station, British Columbia.

Gary Belovsky, 435-797-2597
Professor, Utah State University

Robert Bilby, 253-924-6557
Senior scientist, Weyerhaeuser

Peter Bisson, 360-753-7671
Research fisheries biologist, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest

Kenneth Cummins, 707-826-3268
Senior research scientist, Humbolt State University

Thomas Dunne, 805-893-7557,
Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

Jerry Franklin, 206-543-2138
Professor of forest resources, University of Washington

John Innes, 604-822-6761
Professor, University of British Columbia

Matthew Sobel, 216-368-6003
Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

D. Schneider, 709-737-8841
Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Franklin Schwing, 831-648-9034
Pacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory, NOAA, NMFS

Joy Zedler, 608-262-8629
Professor, University of Wisconsin

University of Washington

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