A carefully designed monitoring program can improve the effectiveness of restoration efforts. Monitoring can inform restoration project design and site selection, measure progress toward restoration goals of an individual project as well as of a restoration program and further improve efficacy of the restoration process itself. In addition, monitoring an ongoing project can directly enhance restoration outcomes and improve future restoration decision making. This chapter addresses the following part of the committee’s charge: “for monitoring and evaluating restoration activities to improve the performance of restoration programs and increase the effectiveness and longevity of restoration projects.”
The first section of this chapter provides a general discussion of how monitoring can improve restoration effectiveness at the project and program levels and enhance restoration program management. Subsequently, the chapter describes adaptive management in support of enhancing restoration effectiveness, focusing on the project scale and beyond the project scale (such as at the scale of a tributary, estuary, program, region, or basin-wide). The chapter also presents key steps necessary for application of adaptive management to Gulf-coast restoration and restoration monitoring.
Monitoring of restoration projects, the analysis and synthesis of monitoring data, and the evaluation of restoration projects and programs can contribute to the improvement of restoration design, effectiveness, and longevity. As discussed in Chapters 3 and 6, data from restoration monitoring can inform a range of critical decisions including the following:
- Prioritizing what actions need to be taken, and where, when, and how these actions need to be implemented;
- Selecting appropriate restoration sites;
- Determining, demonstrating, and communicating restoration progress toward objectives;
- Understanding why restoration (or elements of restoration) did not meet objectives;
- Informing program and project adjustments;
- Assessing and justifying expenditures;
- Advancing the state of restoration practice; and
- Improving conceptual and numerical computer models.
Formal evaluations of conservation projects and programs have been growing in number and sophistication recently because of increasing recognition that “good project management is integrally linked to well-designed monitoring and evaluation systems” (Stem et al., 2005). Formal evaluations1 of restoration projects and programs have been lagging (Wortley et al., 2013; Nilsson et al., 2016) despite the long-standing practice of doing restoration. The committee considers the guidance developed for monitoring and evaluation of conservation programs applicable to the evaluation of restoration programs and a great resource (see also Groves and Game, 2015, for detailed guidance on monitoring and evaluation for conservation).
A range of approaches and systems for monitoring and evaluation have been employed in the field of conservation biology depending on the question the evaluation aims to inform. Such evaluation can take the form of a status assessment (based on, for example, population monitoring), performance assessment, impact assessment, or systematic review (see Groves and Game, 2016, for a helpful classification of the
1 While monitoring and assessment focus on ecological objectives and measures, a formal evaluation of a conservation program includes a review of whether the stated goals were adequate and the reasons for successes and failures (Kleiman et al., 2000). For the purpose of this report, however, we use the terms assessment and evaluation as synonyms and as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
types of evaluations and the questions they aim to answer). Status assessments and performance assessments are conducted at the project level. The status assessment informs decisions about the resource status in need of conservation (in this case, restoration) and the performance assessment indicates whether the conservation intervention (in this case, restoration activity) yields progress toward the goals. The impact evaluation and the systematic review both look across multiple projects or even an entire program and are typically conducted by professional evaluators or researchers. Both of these latter evaluations inform adaptive management decision at the project and program level.
Lessons learned from formal evaluation of a project or program begin with an evaluation of whether the stated goals and objectives have been achieved (Kentula et al., 1992; NRC, 2005). As discussed in Chapter 2, many restoration programs’ goals need to be articulated in terms of specific and measurable objectives. Subsequently, those ecological objectives or outcomes can be assessed at the project and program levels using three general categories metrics: structure, species abundance and diversity, and ecological processes (Thom et al., 2010; Wortley et al., 2013; NOAA, 2014). For example, a programmatic review by the NOAA Science Advisory Board found as part of its assessment of NOAA’s restoration program that their projects generated significant economic benefits. However, the report noted that the assessed benefits did not extend to the goal of fisheries production. Furthermore, the review notes “to deliver measurable fisheries production benefits from restoration projects” the program would have to deliver fewer but larger projects.”
As detailed in Chapter 3, how much can be learned from monitoring depends on the rigor and effort of monitoring employed. Here we briefly discuss how monitoring for different purposes can inform assessments, improve restoration outcomes, and how monitoring can be integrated into adaptive management.
Because ecosystems are complex and are not fully understood, their responses to restoration efforts are often uncertain. However, as noted by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force (2011), “The dire state of many elements of the Gulf ecosystem cannot wait for scientific certainty and demand immediate action.” Adaptive management provides a structured process that allows restoration to proceed in the face of uncertainties (Holling, 1978; also defined in Box 1.3). In adaptive management, monitoring and evaluation are carefully planned and implemented so that knowledge gained from restoration projects can be applied through flexible decision making to enhance ongoing or future restoration activities (NRC, 2004). Although adaptive management is implemented in a variety of ways, the process generally frames restoration implementation within a cycle of learning and adaptation. Key steps of adaptive management include setting restoration goals; planning restoration efforts (including identifying critical uncertainties that affect future decision making); implementation; monitoring; synthesis; evaluation; and adjustments to goals, project design, operations, or monitoring (see Figure 1.B) (Williams et al., 2009; RECOVER, 2010; Fischenich et al., 2012; Conroy and Peterson, 2013; Westgate et al., 2013).
Without a structured adaptive management program, performance monitoring may illuminate shortcomings of a restoration project, but performance monitoring alone is unlikely to be sufficient to determine the reasons for the project failure, resulting in little added guidance for future restoration decisions (also called trial and error). Unlike learning through trial and error, adaptive management supports more efficient learning and includes a targeted monitoring effort to resolve identified high-priority uncertainties (see also Chapter 3), thereby improving future restoration decisions.
The terms “active” and “passive” adaptive management are often used to distinguish two approaches to structured learning, although there is notable variability in the way these terms are used. In general, active adaptive management efforts emphasize rapid learning over other restoration objectives, while in passive adaptive management, learning is a useful benefit but not necessarily the highest management priority (Williams, 2011b). One common approach to active adaptive management allows simultaneous testing of two or more restoration designs or working hypotheses regarding predicted outcomes (Bormann et al., 1999; Hagen and Evju, 2013). Box 7.1 describes an active adaptive management project that examines oyster restoration effectiveness based on four different artificial reef heights in Apalachicola Bay. In contrast, passive adaptive management is characterized by management decisions
informed by a single working hypothesis gained through restoration monitoring is compared to model predictions, and improvements in expected outcomes may be examined by refining parameter estimates in a predictive model. Management actions (e.g., changes in restoration design or operations) may then be altered to conform to new predictions (Wilhere, 2002; Schreiber et al., 2004; Gregory et al., 2006; Williams, 2011b). The Everglades Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands restoration project (USACE and SFWMD, 2012) presents a passive adaptive management plan in which a single restoration strategy is implemented and targets (or trigger values) for restoration responses (e.g., salinity, hydroperiod) are set that if not met, trigger the need to revisit the restoration goals, targets, and design alternatives (see Box 1.3). Active adaptive management generally leads to faster learning than passive strategies but can be expensive (Gregory et al., 2006; Williams et al., 2009; Allen et al., 2011).
Adaptive management is most commonly applied at the project scale (e.g. rehydration of an individual wetland), or over several closely linked projects. It is also possible to apply adaptive management at larger scales or at a program level (e.g., RECOVER, 2015), but identifying clear goals and objectives, developing system-wide conceptual models, and specifying critical uncertainties at the program scale that can be reduced through a deliberative monitoring and evaluation process is more challenging. Program-level synthesis, evaluation, and learning are discussed separately in Chapter 6.
Benefits of Adaptive Management
Adaptive management offers numerous benefits. Through monitoring and evaluation, adaptive management allows learning and adjustments to restoration projects, thereby increasing the likelihood that restoration goals will be achieved and undesirable outcomes avoided. This flexible process allows adjustment guided by new knowledge at any stage (planning, design, construction, operation) during the
lifetime of a project ensuring that restoration decisions are informed by the best available science on a continuing basis. Adaptive management allows restoration programs to prioritize what to do (and where and when) and make adjustments as new information is acquired. Adaptive management fosters dialogue between scientists, managers and stakeholders to allow for interpretation of the results of monitoring and assess progress toward goals. Adaptive management aims to develop the best results within the shortest amount of time, and it can reduce cost in the long-term (Fischenich et al., 2012). However, the adaptive management approach requires practitioners to examine proposed restoration activities and the uncertainties associated with outcomes at a considerable level of detail, necessitating a sizeable investment of resources for planning, monitoring, and evaluation.
When to Use Adaptive Management and When It Is Not Appropriate
Adaptive management is most suited for situations where natural resources will respond to a management intervention, where there is considerable uncertainty (see Box 7.2) regarding the response, where reduction in that uncertainty could improve future restoration management and decision making (Allen et al., 2011; Williams, 2011a), or where stakeholder support and institutional capacity and commitment to sustain an adaptive program are present (Gregory et al. 2006). As detailed in Chapter 3, there are four sources of uncertainty (environmental variation, partial observability, partial controllability, and knowledge uncertainty about the process). If the response of the system to restoration intervention is well known (low knowledge uncertainty), adaptive management is not needed. For example, as long as sites have been carefully selected, adaptive management of osprey nest platforms (NOAA, 2015) is probably not necessary. Also, if the system is unresponsive to management or if the response to the restoration is anticipated to be smaller than the natural variation in the system, then adaptive management is unrealistic (Allen et al., 2011; Peterson et al., 2003). Finally, time scale of response to restoration is an issue. If measurable indicators of change take many years or even decades to occur, adaptive management would be more challenging. A decision tree proposed by Williams et al. (2009) offers questions to help determine if adaptive management is appropriate to a specific project (see Box 7.3).
Active adaptive management, where several restoration alternatives are often tested simultaneously, is best employed when there are alternative management scenarios to choose between, uncertainty in system response is high, and improved understanding is needed quickly because moving forward with full-scale restoration without additional information poses a substantial risk. For example, restoration of oyster reefs will be a Gulf-wide endeavor, and implementation of the wrong strategy at such a scale would be costly as a result (e.g. Bormann et al., 1999; see also Box 7.1). Additionally, there must be suitable site conditions for implementing and testing the alternative management scenarios, and the responsiveness of the system to experimental manipulation need to be such that results are available in an acceptable time frame (Gregory et al., 2006; Allen et al., 2011; RECOVER, 2010).
Passive adaptive management is appropriate when uncertainty is low to moderate and projects are designed with sufficient flexibility to allow sequential adjustments to be made to the project or its operations. If there is so littleflexibility in project design or operations that alternative scenarios cannot be implemented, adaptive management would not add value to long-term decision making.
Several Gulf restoration entities have expressed a commitment to the use of adaptive management. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force (2011) recommended “establishing an effective adaptive management framework with critical research, modeling and monitoring elements to support adaptive management.” The DWH NRDA Trustees identified monitoring and adaptive management support for restoration as one of the five overarching goals of the Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (DWH NRDA Trustees, 2016). The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is implementing its Master Plan within an adaptive management framework (Water Institute of the Gulf, 2013), and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has funded CPRA to
implement adaptive management in its river diversion and barrier island projects. NFWF expects all projects to include adaptive management plans in their proposals or be prepared to develop one (J. Porthouse, personal communication, 2015).
Although there is clear support for the use of adaptive management in Gulf restoration (Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, 2011; DWH NRDA Trustees, 2016), key components that are needed to facilitate effective implementation of adaptive management are currently lacking or not fully developed at a program level. These include careful determination of critical uncertainties, development of adaptive management plans, support for evaluation and synthesis of monitoring data, development of a process for adaptive management decision making, political will, and a financial and procedural commitment to adaptive management. Each of these elements is discussed in more detail below. Coordinated guidance from the major funding programs would help address these needs.
Defining Knowledge Gaps and Uncertainties
A primary step in the adaptive management process is identifying the critical uncertainty (or uncertainties) that will be the focus of targeted monitoring and evaluation (see Box 7.2). Defining what constitutes an uncertainty and what may make that uncertainty critical may be difficult, because uncertainty and risk are associated with virtually all restoration projects. Therefore, a systematic approach is needed to screen and prioritize project-related uncertainties. Box 7.2 describes criteria used in the Central Everglades Planning Project for
screening uncertainties, and additional criteria for prioritizing them, which may be applicable to Gulf restoration projects. Screening criteria need to address the potential to improve future restoration decision making and reduce risk by reducing the uncertainty. In Gulf restoration, program managers would benefit from additional guidance from the program level to identify critical uncertainties. A coordinated effort among the large Gulf restoration programs would be the most efficient approach to identify and prioritize restoration uncertainties at both project and program scales.
Adaptive Management Planning
Although there is a demonstrated and acknowledged need for adaptive management in Gulf restoration, implementation and integration appears largely limited to Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. For example, review of projects included in the RESTORE Council’s Draft Initial Funded Priorities List (RESTORE, 2015), indicated that only those from Louisiana included as a deliverable, development of a plan for implementing adaptive management. Review of plans for projects identified in the Final Phase IV Early Restoration Plan1 also showed that consideration of uncertainties, corrective actions, and particularly the adaptive management process were largely lacking.
A requirement at the project-level to assess whether an adaptive management plan is needed would ensure that the benefits and costs of adaptive management are carefully considered and structured in the planning process. An adaptive management plan formalizes how the steps in the adaptive management process will be integrated into the implementation of a restoration project. Plans need to be scaled to reflect the size, cost, and complexity of the project. At the project scale, adaptive management plans inform decisions concerning project design, modification, and operation. Adaptive management plans at the sub-regional (i.e., watershed/estuary) scale involve multiple projects and would inform decisions concerning the sequence of project implementation and the potential need for additional project elements. Adaptive management plans at the sub-regional scale can also identify interactions between projects across time and space as uncertainties that need to be addressed.
In general, an adaptive management plan needs to address the following questions:
- Why does the project require adaptive management?
- What critical uncertainties may prevent the project from meeting its goals and performance criteria, and how could efforts to reduce these uncertainties improve future restoration decision making and reduce risk?
- What monitoring strategies are necessary to address each critical uncertainty and what are the expected timeframes of response?
- What level of project performance would trigger an evaluation of whether to implement a corrective action and how often will the criteria be evaluated?
- If performance criteria are not met, what potential corrective actions should be considered?
- Who is responsible for
- evaluating the monitoring data and quantifying performance criteria;
- determining if a corrective or management action is required and what it should be;
- planning and implementing the management action;
- funding the program and any necessary corrective actions; and
- communicating the results to interested stakeholders?
An example outline of a generic adaptive management plan adopted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is given in Box 7.4. The Adaptive Management Framework for Coastal Louisiana (Water Institute of the Gulf, 2013) and other references (Atkinson et al., 2004; Williams et al., 2009; RECOVER, 2010, 2015; Fischenich and Vogt, 2012; Williams and Brown, 2012) provide guidance and recommendations for integrating adaptive management into coastal restoration projects and writing adaptive management plans.
Facilitate Synthesis and Evaluation in Support of Decision Making
The results of monitoring and research necessitate periodic evaluation and synthesis to support adaptive management. The results are best reported in a systematic, clear, and concise manner to facilitate ease of use for decisions,
with sufficient evidence provided to explain the major conclusions. The analysis of results needs to focus on how well the actions taken by the program are meeting the goals and objectives of the program and the degree to which critical uncertainties have been resolved. If the results are not as predicted, the reasons why need to be explained, if known. New recommendations for research and monitoring to resolve new questions, further reduce critical uncertainties, or improve models may be generated from the evaluation and synthesis process. Critical elements necessary to support synthesis and evaluation in the Gulf are discussed in more detail in Chapter 6.
The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program provides a good example of data synthesis of an extensive adaptive management program, with clear and relatively simple expressions of the results that are useful for stakeholders and decision makers (PRRIP, 2015). Table 7.1 summarizes major findings from the 2014 State of the Platte Report, including which critical uncertainties have been resolved and continue to be studied (highlighting information trends, if known). Additional supporting detail is provided for each “big question” in the report, along with possible adjustments that could be made for those questions that have been resolved.
Develop a Process for Making Adjustments to Restoration Plans
Within the adaptive management process, decision makers take the information from research, monitoring, and evaluation and determine whether operations need to be changed, additional restorative actions need to be implemented, or future restoration plans need to be altered. The suite of decisions falls into three general groups (Thom 2000):
- No action – do nothing because not enough time has elapsed since implementation;
- Do something – implement adjustments to projects to improve effectiveness; or
- Change the goal (i.e., performance metric) – that is, conclude that the project is performing as best as can be expected, albeit not optimal as was predicted, and that this performance is acceptable.
Often the suite of possible actions is large and some options may exceed the existing budget. Prioritization of actions can be facilitated through a structured decision-making process that considers benefits, costs, and other considerations in light of overall goals and budgets.
Determining in advance who will decide what actions are taken, where, when, and for how long is critical to an adaptive management program. Decision-makers may be appointed by agencies or come from independent stakeholder groups. Ideally, such a decision-maker would have a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem, have a background in resolving complex issues involving science, engineering,
and policy, and can translate complex, interdisciplinary information to make solid informed decisions. The appointed decision maker needs to coordinate with a wide array of researchers and scientists, program managers, funding entities, and interested stakeholders. Many large projects utilize an independent science advisory panel to help in the prioritization process (Burns et al., in review).
Commitment to Adaptive Management
Because adaptive management requires more rigorous project planning, monitoring and management effort, it is more resource intensive. Therefore, a consistent, reliable commitment of monetary and human resources in support of the necessary science, monitoring, evaluation, and decision-making is required for successful implementation. Additionally, adaptive management is more likely to achieve its goals if the process is supported by a dedicated organizational structure (unit) within the agencies implementing restoration. That means that when adaptive management is determined to be appropriate to a project, the adaptive management framework and processes need to be embraced by the action agency. Although adaptive management is viewed as the pragmatic approach to restoration in many situations, the process can conflict with an agency’s standard project implementation process. More work may be required upfront to identify and rank critical uncertainties and develop monitoring plans to address them. An adaptive management approach typically requires more funding for monitoring than a typical project, and funding for monitoring that is inconsistent or subject to major cuts can impact the effectiveness of the adaptive management process.
If adaptive management is to be implemented across the Gulf in a way that truly enhances the long-term effectiveness of restoration investments, additional program-level support for adaptive management is needed, including coordinated guidance for project managers. As previously discussed, coordinated program teams could identify high-priority uncertainties (see Box 1.2) for common project types and for the Gulf restoration program more broadly to provide guidance at the project level. Guidance is also needed to outline a framework for determining when adaptive management is (or is not) appropriate and a sound investment of resources in Gulf restoration efforts. The guidance could also identify effective adaptive management protocols and information required in adaptive management plans, describe program-le vel science resources to support project managers in these efforts, and outline strategies to coordinate adaptive management projects at scales larger than a single project.
The complexity, large scale, and extended timeframe of Gulf restoration provide valuable opportunities for improving the effectiveness of restoration through monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management. Both construction and performance monitoring also provide opportunities for improving the effectiveness of restoration, although learning tends to occur more slowly. Adaptive management provides a structured process by which knowledge gained from monitoring restoration efforts can be used to reduce critical uncertainties and enhance ongoing or future restoration decision making. Adaptive management, therefore, increases the likelihood that restoration goals will be achieved and decreases the likelihood of undesirable outcomes, while enhancing communication among scientists, managers and stakeholders. Adaptive management is not appropriate or necessary for all restoration projects, particularly those where the response is well known or the time scales for ecosystem response are lengthy. However, with a well-conceived monitoring program and rigorous evaluation, adaptive management offers the potential to improve restoration performance over the long term and enhance cost effectiveness.
To improve long-term restoration effectiveness, and where the restoration program managers deem it appropriate, Gulf restoration programs should implement adaptive management at the program- and project-level. To implement adaptive management, projects or programs need to commit to the
- Careful determination of critical uncertainties, prioritized by the potential for adaptive management to improve future restoration decision making and reduce risk;
- Development of project-level adaptive management plans that formalize the key steps and responsible parties in the adaptive management process;
- Institutional support for synthesis and evaluation in support of decision making;
- Development of a decision-making process in advance for making adjustments to restoration projects;
- A clear financial and procedural commitment to adaptive management, which will likely require a dedicated organizational structure and additional planning and monitoring beyond typical restoration projects; and
- Coordinated guidance for implementing adaptive management for Gulf restoration.
Table 7.1 Synthesis of Progress Resolving Uncertainties in the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program
|PRRIP Big Question||2014
|Basis for assessment|
|Implementation - Proaram Manaaement Actions and Habitat|
1. Will implementation of SDHF produce suitable tern and plover riverine nesting habitat on an annual or near-annual basis?
|Peer-reviewed Program synthesis concludes that SDHF will not produce suitable nesting sandbars.|
2. Will implementation of SDHF produce and/or maintain suitable whooping crane riverine roosting habitat on an annual or near-annual basis?
|Trending negative; Program synthesis chapters now in development will be discussed with the TAC and ISAC and peer reviewed in 2015; those synthesis chapters and published manuscripts related to the Program’s vegetation and lateral erosion research will likely support a “two thumbs down” assessment in the 2015 State of the Platte Report.|
3. Is sediment augmentation necessary for the creation and/or maintenance of suitable riverine tern, plover, and whooping crane habitat?
|Trending positive; certainty about the sediment deficit; uncertainty about the role of that deficit in habitat creation and maintenance.|
4. Are mechanical channel alterations (channel widening and flow consolidation) necessary for the creation and/or maintenance of suitable riverine tern, plover, and whooping crane habitat?
|Trending positive; planform management manuscript now in development will be published and will likely support a “two thumbs up” assessment in the 2015 State of the Platte Report.|
|Effectiveness - Habitat and Target Species Response|
5. Do whooping cranes select suitable riverine roosting habitat in proportions equal to its availability?
|A definitive assessment is expected by 2017 once peer review of data analyses (momtonng, telemetry, stopover study data, habitat availability assessments, IGERT research) is complete.|
6. Does availability of suitable nesting habitat limit tern and plover use and reproductive success on the central Platte River?
|Trending positive; three documents now in development will be peer reviewed and/or published and will likely support a “two thumbs up” assessment in the 2015 State of the Platte Report.|
7. Are both suitable in-channel and off-channel nesting habitats required to maintain central Platte River tern and plover populations?
|Trending negative; three documents now in development will be peer reviewed and/or published and will likely support a “two thumbs down” assessment in the 2015 State of the Platte Report.|
8. Does forage availability limit tern and plover productivity on the central Platte River?
|Trending negative; synthesis document related to tern forage (fish) will be peer reviewed that, in combination with the results of the Foraging Habits Study, will likely support a “two thumbs down” assessment in the 2015 State of the Platte Report|
9. Do Program flow management actions in the central Platte River avoid adverse impacts to pallid sturgeon in the lower Platte River?
|Peer-reviewed Program stage change study concludes Program flow management actions will avoid adverse impacts.|
|Larger Scale Issues - Application of Learning|
10. Do Program management actions in the central Platte River contribute to least tern, piping plover, and whooping crane recovery?
|By definition, implementation of the Program contributes to recovery of the target species. A definitive answer for this question can only be obtained by a broader analysis of the contribution of the central Platte to range-wide recovery.|
11. What uncertainties exist at the end of the First Increment, and how might the Program address those uncertainties?
|This question is a “parking lot” for uncertainties that could be addressed through adaptive management in an extended First Increment or new Second Increment|
SOURCE: PRRIP, 2015.
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