On March 15, 2010, the Council asked the Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) and Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) to jointly review and provide comments to improve the Council’s Draft Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Reporting (MERR) Plan for the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program (Program). The goal of the Program is to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife, and related spawning grounds and habitat that have been affected by the construction and operation of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries. The MERR Plan is designed to provide a monitoring and evaluation framework to improve reporting of Program progress and to better inform Council decisions.
The draft MERR document has obviously benefited from much thought and revision. The document is comprehensive, well written, and well organized. The document will serve as a resource to explain the objectives of the Council, the planning process, and coordination with other groups/agencies. The MERR document is essential because inadequate monitoring, evaluation, and reporting hinder progress in the Columbia River Basin. A very important element recommended in the 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program for a RME plan was "increasing requirements for reporting of results and accountability." Over 40% of the ongoing projects that the ISRP has reviewed in the past several years have been characterized by inadequate reporting of results (ISRP 2007-1). Published and unpublished data and reports should be available in a timely manner and in a format that identifies species, ESU, locations, methods, and results. This will facilitate adaptive management, a better regional knowledge base, and more relevant, informed, and timely research proposals.
Although the draft MERR Plan is a credible and very useful effort to start the process, some revisions are suggested in this review. MERR will only be successful if mechanisms and resources are in place to accomplish some rather lofty goals, and if there is the ability and political will to refine the scope on a regular basis. Those details need to be well articulated in this document before its approval. Similar efforts outside the Columbia River Basin have failed because the enabling documents were vague on the details and did not identify responsibilities or point out the consequences of failing to meet programmatic goals. Another fundamental problem in other previous efforts was inadequate funding to implement actions. The document should describe how this plan would overcome these fundamental pitfalls to make the MERR Plan successful.
The MERR plan should reference successful endeavors, such as the Heinz State of the Ecosystem Report, that directly inform RME needs, the Long Term Ecological Research Network (US-LTER (USA)), and connections to BiOp RPAs and RIST documents that could help direct the MERR plan and provide context. The MERR Plan authors should review and critically evaluate other efforts to understand their strengths and weaknesses such as the reports: An adaptive system to link science, monitoring, and management in practice(Biggs and Rogers 2003) and The real river management challenge: Integrating scientists, stakeholders and service agencies (Rogers 2005).
The ISRP and ISAB are aware that the MERR document has a diverse audience of interested parties including Council members, staff, science groups, project managers, and project proposers. Inclusion of a glossary would be useful to provide a common understanding of terms used throughout the document. The challenge of addressing research, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting conceptually, as well as providing guidance at an operational level is substantial. The draft MERR Plan is an excellent start and is a living document that will evolve with advances in science, changes in the BiOp, and on-the-ground actions.
As a living document the MERR Plan can adapt as the goals of the Fish and Wildlife Program are revised to reflect the evolution of monitoring and evaluation, adaptive management experiments, and scientific research. A revised MERR Plan could provide an opportunity to inform changes in protection, mitigation, and enhancement goals by emphasizing a logical, scientific progression to problem identification, determining the best approach to answering key questions, and laying out a strategy for evaluating and reporting data.
See the attached memo and ISAB and ISRP comments embedded in the draft MERR Plan for details.