The Partnership chose BPA’s Atlas framework as their prioritization framework for determining where and what actions to pursue to most cost-effectively provide the maximum biological benefit for focal fish and terrestrial species and associated habitat. The Atlas tool built upon and refined the preliminary subbasin objective and action-setting discussed in Section 10 (Partnership Strategic Action Plan) to create the prioritization maps in Appendix G and final SMART goals, objectives, and actions in Section 12.
Atlas is a collaborative, evidence-based, dynamic tool for identifying and prioritizing habitat restoration projects. Its premise is that restoration funds should be prioritized based on biological benefit, and that restoration programs should be able to demonstrate that the right work is implemented in the right place (BPA, 2015; BPA 2018). Atlas is a comprehensive and rigorous process that is traditionally a fish-focused tool. For the Partnership, it was carefully modified to prioritize the placement and impact of actions across the landscape from ridge-to-ridge, including uplands (croplands, range, forest, etc.). The Atlas strategic action framework will be actively managed by local partners to answer the following types of questions.
The Atlas prioritization framework can help to answer the following types of questions (BPA, 2015):
What types of restoration actions are needed and where should they be implemented on the landscape to address high priority limiting factors?
What is the group of stakeholders that will deliver the strategy?
Did the restoration make a difference based on evaluation?
Are there changes necessary to better meet goals and outcomes?
The Partnership’s Atlas tool was developed via a collaborative process between BPA, the Partnership’s Technical Working Group, and other local experts over 7 meetings from the summer 2017 to the late winter of 2018. The basin was broken up into 15 sub-watersheds by combining the 43 ten-digit hydrologic units that share similar ecological characteristics. These areas became the geographic boundaries for the Atlas analysis. Further, Fish and Upland Subgroups were formed to identify how best to adapt Atlas for the desired ridge-to-ridge application. The following ten (10) step-wise process was utilized to build the John Day Atlas:
1. Convening. Convened BPA, the Technical Working Group, and additional local experts with knowledge of the best available data and on-the-ground information on the focal species and habitat.
2. Data Compilation. Fish and Upland Subgroups with specific expertise in these areas were assembled to offer empirical data and local knowledge on the presence or absence of species and habitat. Cramer Fish Sciences was contracted to assemble and distribute all John Day Basin GIS data to the partnership (stored on ArcGis Online; Cramer Fish Sciences, 2017; Appendix E).
3. Limiting Factors Assessment. The subgroups reviewed data for each species/habitat to identify what factors are limiting growth and survival. Five activities were performed by the technical working group.
Determine fish periodicity within each Subwatershed = the time, in months and weeks, that each fish species (spring Chinook, summer steelhead, bull trout, Pacific lamprey) and life stage (adult immigration, holding, spawning, incubation/emergence, summer rearing, winter rearing, juvenile emigration) spend in each Subwatershed. The areas with the greatest number of species and life stages are considered core production areas (strong holds) from which to expand and increase the distribution of the population.
Determine limiting life stage within each Subwatershed = how each fish species and life stage currently utilizes the Subwatershed and the priority rating of the life stage(s) that is (are) currently limiting the productivity, abundance, and distribution of the population.
Determine limiting habitat factors within each Subwatershed = identification and ranking of the factors that currently limit the productivity, abundance, and distribution of the species and life stages rated above.
Determine restoration actions within each Subwatershed = identification and ranking of the restoration actions to best address the limiting factors and benefit the life stages rated above.
4. Geographic Prioritization. Based on this assessment, sub-watersheds were prioritized for action based on restoration potential. Six variables were assessed for each sub-watershed (3 aquatic and 3 upland), using best available data, and then cumulative scores were calculated for aquatic and upland restoration potential.
- Determine geomorphic potential within each Subwatershed (aquatic) = ability to physically affect change (implement the restoration actions prioritized within a Subwatershed) within a given location based on a variety of physical factors, including stream size, gradient, and lateral confinement.
- Determine geomorphic potential within each Subwatershed (upland) = Ability to physically affect change (implement the restoration actions prioritized) with a given subwatershed based on a variety of physical factors, including soil productivity, precipitation, elevation, aspect, and slope.
- Determine current habitat condition within each Subwatershed (aquatic) = Areas with poor condition may require a large investment for little change, areas with excellent condition may need protection instead of restoration actions, and areas in the fair to good range may benefit the most from restoration actions.
- Determine current habitat condition within each Subwatershed (upland) = Areas with "Fair" and "Good" habitat ratings, based on the soil productivity, vegetation composition, precipitation, and air temperature, provide the most opportunity for improvement. Areas with "Poor" habitat ratings require significant investment for minimal improvement, and areas with "Excellent" ratings provide little opportunity for enhancement beyond the current condition.
- Determine future habitat condition within each Subwatershed (aquatic) = Areas that are predicted to have limited or no flow and high water temperatures may not be the most viable, long term restoration investment.
- Determine future habitat condition within each Subwatershed (upland) = This variable will be rated based on projected air temperature and precipitation information.
- Calculate cumulative score each Subwatershed = based on the priority ratings for periodicity, limiting life stage, geomorphic potential, current habitat condition, and future habitat condition mentioned above.
5. Action Mapping. Specific restoration actions were identified and mapped in these prioritized areas based on the characteristics and condition of the landscape, land use and ownership, and restoration potential. The mapping activity focused on creating GIS polygon boundaries called restoration opportunity areas. The restoration actions within the opportunity areas are evaluated and scored based on the critical limiting factors addressed, natural process restoration potential (e.g., Beechie et al., 2010), and climate change resiliency potential (e.g., Beechie et al., 2013). For the aquatic actions the polygons were restricted to the floodplain and uplands actions out of the floodplain. The action mapping has been completed on three of the fifteen Atlas watersheds (OWEB FIP Initiative Areas) for aquatic restoration actions (see tables below and Section 12). The uplands action mapping has not begun at this point. However, the uplands actions will be automated by a GIS analysis associated with each upland restoration action. Please see Basin-wide Atlas completion schedule below. The end products are reviewed by each subbasin group and the technical working group. See Appendix G for the current summary of Atlas actions.
6. Feasibility. The Partnership’s three Subbasin Working Groups considered the information collected in the objective and action-setting described in Section 10 and other up-to-date local perspectives to add feasibility factors, including landowner willingness, partner/local expertise to implement, whether the action is a priority in an existing plan, and other social issues (e.g., risk/uncertainty, compliance and permitting, design and construction costs). This step is pending completion of the basinwide action mapping (see schedule below).
7. Project List. Based on evaluation of biological and social data, a list of potential projects (geography+action) is created that provide the greatest biological benefit. Local partners.volunteer to be “opportunity leads” to coordinate and implement the high priority projects. The basinwide project list is still a work in progress (see schedule below). However, partners have already identified feasible restoration opportunities in the Aquatic Habitat Initiative Areas action mapping and a preliminary project list is in development.
8. Evaluation Results. Project monitoring per Section 15 will provide feedback on the effectiveness of the prioritization process and resulting projects in delivering cost-effective progress toward Partnership goals and outcomes.
9. Adaptive Management. Since the Atlas is dynamic it can be updated as knowledge evolves about species distribution and productivity in a particular area or when sufficient habitat has been restored to provide biological benefit to a critical life stage. The goal is to ensure the most beneficial projects are always on the list and queued for implementation. Restoration decisions can be continuously informed by science and the needs of the focal species to ensure the best investment of available funds.
10. Final Project Selection. The final step is to decide which projects to pursue from the list based on number and value of project opportunities, need for specific actions based on SMART goals in Section 12, and available funding.
To date, Atlas has been completed in seven Columbia Basin watersheds in Idaho and Oregon, including the Catherine Creek watershed and the Upper Grande Ronde watersheds of northeast Oregon (Roni et al., 2018). These efforts in the Upper Grande Ronde-Catherine Creek will inform the Partnership’s implementation of the tool.
In sum, the objectives of Atlas include (BPA, 2015; BPA, 2018; Roni et al., 2018):
Increase collaboration between local restoration and research/monitoring practitioners.
Use of best available science (from existing plans, assessments, monitoring data) to inform restoration at the local level.
Alignment of restoration priorities within a watershed.
Implement strategic habitat improvement actions to address high priority limiting factors.
Accountability and increase return on financial investments.
Potential to leverage additional investments.
Provide a systematic and transparent approach for future monitoring and adaptive management.