Writer-by-the-Sea   >  Portfolio   >  Smith River

 Smith River Project > Suggested Restoration Actions

Chapter 7 -- Synthesizing an Ecosystem Restoration Strategy (continued)

Preliminary List of Suggested Restoration Actions

The most practical and effective priorities for fisheries restoration should be selected from the following list of potential actions and studies. These suggested restoration actions incorporate concepts from "rapid biotic and ecological response" strategy (Frissell et al. 1993) and "patient-template analysis" (Lichatowich et al. 1995). Some groups of actions are labeled "ecosystem integrity indicators" because they are potentially valuable for assessing the overall "health" of the system and may provide an early warning "red flag" for ecosystem problems.

A) Define Watershed Units

[analytical method]

Several criteria are proposed for classifying watershed units:

  1. Classification based on ecological subsections (Table 7, Bailey 1996, California 1994, United States 1978) defines ecological zones defined mostly by geology. Streams within a particular ecological subsection tend to respond similarly to events and human impacts. Therefore, this form of classification allows experience, knowledge, and standards to be shared among comparable areas. Analysis of ecosystem subsections often suggests opportunities for hypothesis testing. For example, an interesting hypothesis is that a disproportionately high number of smolts are produced from the Northern Franciscan Subsection including Mill and Rowdy Creeks. Ecological subsections are also helpful in identifying "control areas" for hypothesis testing.
  2. Classification using the "river continuum" concept is based on typical differences between upstream and downstream areas of rivers and streams. As stream order increases downstream, river ecosystems change in a predictable sequence. Habitat attributes, species composition, sources of primary productivity, and the food chain are arranged in a sequence based on position in the river network (Vannote et al. 1980). Life history patterns of anadromous salmonids seem to rely heavily on particular sections of the river continuum.
  3. "Rapid biotic and ecological response" (RBER) methods (Frissell et al. 1993) provide a system for stratifying the watershed in relation to restoration. In the RBER strategy, habitat types are defined in terms of their contribution to recovery of biological diversity. The RBER strategy prioritizes watershed restoration projects based on geographic distribution of high quality habitat. In addition, this strategy operates on multiple time frames: short-term (2 to 10 years), medium-term (10 to 50 years), and long-term (20 to 200 years). Habitats are classified as "focal", "nodal", "adjunct", and "grubstake". "Focal" habitats are patches of pristine or relatively undisturbed habitat usually found in the headwaters. "Nodal" habitats are relatively intact areas that serve as connecting links in the river network. Both focal and nodal habitats support important components of biodiversity such as sensitive species. The top priority in the RBER strategy is identifying, protecting, and enhancing nodal and focal habitats in the short term (2-10 years). "Adjunct" habitats are degraded areas that are usually downstream from focal or nodal habitats. They are high priority for restoration in the medium-term (10-50 years) to reestablish connectivity and allow expansion of populations from nearby focal and nodal habitats. "Grubstake" habitats are formerly important habitats that have been severely degraded. Although difficult to restore, these habitats provide immense ecological benefits. These areas are candidates for long-term restoration projects (20-200 years).

B) Disturbance / Recovery Cycles

[controlling processes, ecosystem integrity indicator]

  1. Estimate the historical range of variability for disturbance-recovery cycles and patterns. Refine estimates of baseline disturbance-recovery cycles as described in the Smith River Watershed Analysis (McCain et al. 1995). It may be possible to identify disturbance-recovery patterns and problems according to watershed units (see A above).
  2. Investigate recent disturbance recovery cycles. Using aerial photos, estimate recovery periods for streams following disturbances of various magnitudes, ranging from the 1964 flood to typical winter peak flows. Identify differences between the present disturbance cycle and the pre-settlement disturbance cycle. Identify differences between managed and unmanaged recovery.
  3. Identify "after the disturbance" policies that will protect beneficial changes caused by disturbances (Gregory 1993).
  4. Using a combination of indicators, develop an index to rate the disturbance-recovery status for each watershed and subwatershed for a given year. This would estimate the combined effect of floods, fire, timber harvest, and other influences. Criteria for the recovery index might include condition of riparian vegetation, geomorphic indicators such as particle size, and land cover characteristics such as proportion of bare soil, landslide size and frequency, and proportions of early and late seral stages. Another potential indicator of disturbance-recovery status is the lag time between rainfall and increased streamflow. This index would be used in combination with the ecological subsection type (based on geology) because recovery would be more rapid in areas of resistant geology. Maps of the basin or subbasin showing "recovery status" for each stream would help managers understand how the distribution of high quality habitat is likely to change in the future. By tracking recovery status over time, managers could identify disturbed watersheds that continue to degrade rather than recovering.

C) Geomorphic Processes

[controlling influences, ecosystem integrity indicator]

  1. Estimate the historical range of variability for geomorphic processes. Refine estimates of baseline rates for geomorphic processes and historic changes in habitat as described in the Smith River Watershed Analysis (McCain et al. 1995).
  2. Investigate short- and long-term trends in sediment production, transport, and storage, especially human influences on these trends. Identify significant sediment producing areas. Evaluate the degree of risk posed by these areas to biotic refuges and critical habitat for anadromous salmonids. Develop specific recommendations for reducing and preventing sediment inputs. For example, consider creating positive incentives for private landowners to reduce erosion such as through "storm-proofing" roads.
  3. Investigate the use of bedload transport rate as a monitoring tool. Identify important times and places to measure bedload transport. This characteristic is related to stream ecosystem integrity and can be estimated by measuring the rate of fine sediment deposition in pools (Hilton and Lisle 1993, Lisle and Hilton 1991). Trends in bedload transport can give insights into stream response to disturbance.
  4. Investigate the use of fine sediment supply as a monitoring tool. Identify important times and places to measure fine sediment supply. A rapid and simple technique for monitoring fine sediment supply and trends is pebble counting. This characteristic is also helpful in understanding stream response to disturbances (Potyondy and Hardy 1994).
  5. Investigate stream channel characteristics as monitoring tools. Important characteristics include pool/riffle ratios, width-to-depth ratios, channel sinuosity, channel stability, and channel sinuosity.
  6. Study gravel mining as a tool for increasing habitat diversity in the lower river. Identify potential adaptive management strategies to study the effects of various gravel mining strategies on juvenile rearing habitat, pre-spawner holding habitat, spawning habitat, and connectivity.
  7. Evaluate the watershed for "loaded guns": areas that are high risk for future mass wasting. Identify potentially unstable areas that have yet to be tested by intense storm events. For example, recently roaded areas in the headwaters may be high-risk for failure and may be upstream from biotic refuges (Frissell et al. 1993). Consider preventive measures on high-risk areas.

D) Riparian Vegetation

[controlling component, ecosystem integrity indicator]

  1. Compare the past and present extent of riparian forests. Estimate the past and present extent of riparian forests, using aerial photographs and historical information.
  2. Identify and prioritize potential projects to increase riparian vegetation. Identify streams with sparse riparian vegetation. In particular, identify opportunities to restore riparian forests in the flood plain of the Smith River mainstem. Prioritize potential projects according to ecological importance in the watershed context, cost-effectiveness, and compatibility with existing economic activities.
  3. Create incentives for improving riparian conditions on private lands. In particular, devise strategies for increasing numbers of large conifers in riparian areas. Recommend changes in the California Forest Practice Regulations (Appendix E) that will improve the condition of riparian canopies.

E) Large Woody Debris

[controlling component, ecosystem integrity indicator]

  1. Estimate the status and trends of large woody debris throughout the stream network.
  2. Identify potential projects for increasing large woody debris in streams. Potential projects in the short term include directly adding wood to streams. Potential long-term projects include planting conifers in riparian areas. Consider methods for increasing woody debris in specific low gradient reaches in the upper watershed. Identify opportunities for planting conifers in thinly vegetated riparian zones within landslide-prone inner gorge areas. Search for innovative methods for initiating and retaining woody debris structures on the lower river and subbasin mainstems. Identify areas where log jams are most beneficial for anadromous salmonids. In these areas, consider installing solid features where log jams can form. Prevent cutting of firewood on flood plains and in riparian areas. Mark valuable pieces of wood on the flood plain with signs saying, "This log is destined to be salmon and steelhead habitat. Please do not remove". Prioritize potential projects according to cost-effectiveness and ecological importance in the watershed context.
  3. Create incentives for increasing recruitment of large woody debris to streams on private lands. In particular, devise strategies for increasing numbers of large conifers in riparian areas. Recommend changes in the California Forest Practice Regulations (Appendix E) that will increase the supply of large wood delivered to streams.
  4. Investigate the use of large woody debris surveys as a monitoring tool. These surveys may be especially helpful in studying trends in habitat complexity (Schuett-Hames et al. 1994; Keller et al. 1995). Investigate the usefulness of measures of large woody debris for estimating ecological integrity and suitability of streams for coho salmon.

F) Benthic Macroinvertebrates

[indicator species, ecosystem integrity indicator]

  • Investigate the use of surveys of benthic macroinvertebrates in streams as an indicator of stream ecosystem conditions. Each species of macroinvertebrates on the stream bottom has special requirements and sensitivities. Sensitivities of macroinvertebrates include temperature, dissolved oxygen, sedimentation, scouring, food availability, flow regime, exposure/light, predators, changes in energy cycle, water chemistry, and pollution. These sensitivities can be used to determine conditions in the stream in the present and in the past (California Department of Fish and Game 1995). These relatively low-cost methods can provide insights into ecosystem integrity.

G) Interaction between Habitat and Anadromous Life History Patterns

  1. Use "patient-template analysis" (Lichatowich et al. 1995, Lestelle et al. 1996) to organize information concerning anadromous salmonid life history patterns and environmental factors. This involves assessing the biological performance of a species (the "patient"), in this case anadromous salmonids. Next is identification of all historic and present life history patterns for anadromous salmonids found in this specific watershed. The "template" consists of the estimated pristine or relatively undeveloped habitat conditions for the watershed. Information is also assembled on current habitat conditions and current life history patterns of the species. Life history patterns are overlaid on the existing spatial and temporal patterns in river and estuary habitats. (An example will be included when new funding arrives for this project.) This overlay helps identify critical habitat, and specifically when and where it is needed. By identifying the most biologically important habitat, opportunities to strengthen at-risk life history patterns can also be identified. This approach allows long-term and collective consequences of many conditions throughout a watershed to be analyzed. Further, it also recognizes that abundance of anadromous fish in an area is due to the cumulative influence of many restricting factors rather than one dominant limiting factor. This encourages managers to consider many factors, none of which is limiting by itself. The analysis should model both density-dependent and density-independent mortality (Lestelle et al. 1996). Besides identifying the most effective strategies for restoring anadromous salmonid production and/or diversity, patient-template analysis also helps identify data gaps and research needs.
  2. Investigate the characteristics of anadromous life history patterns of the Smith River. Scale analysis may be used to gain information about these characteristics.
  3. Identify indices of anadromous salmonid abundance. Indices are needed that can be used on a watershed scale, such as snorkel surveys on the main forks (Reedy 1995).
  4. Investigate the distribution and abundance of anadromous salmonids. Using indices of salmonid abundance, estimate basin-wide patterns in distribution of anadromous salmonids, including areas of high productivity. Monitor the success of anadromous salmonid life history patterns, especially those at-risk.
  5. Study how habitat complexity affects anadromous salmonid populations.
  6. Study the effects of predators on anadromous salmonid populations, including seals, otters, and birds. Determine if predators are limiting expression of any anadromous life history patterns. For example, determine the extent that predation in the estuary by seals, sea lions, and cormorants controls the size of anadromous salmonid stocks.
  7. Estimate the effects of fishing on anadromous salmonid populations, including commercial harvest, sport fishing, and poaching.
  8. Study how connectivity in the river network affects anadromous salmonid populations. Identify connectivity characteristics of the river network that affect anadromous salmonids. Identify the distribution and timing of poor connectivity in relation to expression of life history patterns, and especially in relation to pre-spawner migration and juvenile migration.
  9. Estimate historic changes in connectivity in the river network and the potential for improving connectivity.
  10. Study how geomorphic processes and disturbance-recovery cycles affect anadromous salmonid populations.
  11. Identify critical habitat for anadromous salmonids. Determine habitats that are most lacking in relation to anadromous salmonid life history patterns. Identify potential critical habitat for anadromous salmonids. Identify major spawning areas and potentially important spawning areas. In particular, try to identify ecologically significant low gradient reaches in the upper watershed that are spawning areas. A stream profile for the watershed would help clarify this. However, some low gradient reaches are too small to be detected on stream profiles generated from topographic maps. Evaluate opportunities to increase the quality and quantity of critical habitat. Identify and protect streams that coho are most likely to recolonize, especially suitable streams that are adjacent to habitat currently used by coho.
  12. Identify high quality aquatic habitat and biotic refuges. Potentially helpful information sources include aerial photographs, logging history, and fire history.

H) Floodplain

[controlling component]

  1. Determine the present extent of the floodplain
  2. Estimate the dimensions of floodplain prior to human modification.
  3. Determine the location or potential location of important floodplain habitats. Investigate the ecological importance of floodplain-processes and habitats especially in relation to anadromous fish species.
  4. Investigate opportunities for restoring the flood plain. In consultation with landowners, determine the feasibility of restoring the flood plain or sections of the flood plain. Investigate ways of mitigating economic impacts of such programs, including funding for alternative economic development and long periods for conversion (e.g. 10, 20 years, or more).

I) Estuary

[controlling component]

  1. Study the existing estuary habitats and processes and their ecological importance. Map existing estuary habitat types, such as deep pools, channels, and eel grass beds. Determine species and age classes of anadromous salmonids that use the estuary, their use of habitat types, and the timing of use. Estimate the present capacity of the estuary to produce chinook, chum, and coho smolts and whether the capacity is being fully utilized. Determine whether the estuary and lower river provide adequate holding habitat in the late summer and early fall for pre-spawners. Estimate the overall importance of the existing estuary to anadromous salmonids in the context of the whole watershed.
  2. Estimate the dimensions and condition of the estuary prior to human modification. Using aerial photographs and other sources, determine the former extent of the estuary, including sloughs, wetlands, and tidal areas.
  3. Estimate the potential for increasing the area and/or volume of the estuary including tidal marshes. Investigate the ecological effects of restoring the estuary. A hydrologic model of the estuary could be used to improve understanding of tidal dynamics and how restoration might effect those dynamics. Estimate the effect of restoration actions on each anadromous salmonid species and age class. Estimate the potential overall importance of a restored estuary to anadromous salmonids in the context of the whole watershed.
  4. Study the social implications of restoring the estuary. In consultation with landowners, estimate economic gains and losses expected due to estuary restoration. Identify potential funding sources for estuary restoration. A range of strategies should be developed. It is recommended that restoration strategies be composed of modules that can be implemented in multiple combinations: as stand-alone projects, in combination, or in sequence. This flexibility would increase options and decision points during implementation and allow improved response to community needs, emerging ecosystem trends, or advances in estuarine science. For example, in the event that very high flows occur immediately prior to initiation of restoration activities, rescheduling certain restoration modules could help minimize overall disruption of ecosystem functions. Estuary restoration projects should include control areas.

J) Lower Tributaries

[controlling components]

  1. Compare past and present conditions of the lower river tributaries, including Rowdy and Mill Creeks.
  2. Investigate the ecological importance of the lower river tributaries especially for anadromous fish.
  3. Investigate opportunities for restoring the lower river tributaries.


  Photo gallery   Global effort to end poverty