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200202600 - Morrow County Riparian Buffers Umatilla County Riparian Buffers

Sponsor: Morrow County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD)

Budgets: FY07: $176,471 | FY08: $175,097 | FY09: $178,516

Short description: The Morrow County Riparian Buffers Initiative is requesting funding during fiscal years 2007 through 2009 in conjunction with the Columbia Basin F&W Program and addressed needs identified in the subbasin plan. The Morrow and Umatilla County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD’s) jointly propose to implement riparian buffer systems throughout the Umatilla/Willow Subbasin.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $0 | FY08: $0 | FY09: $0


ISRP final recommendation: Response requested


The project entails parallel efforts in Umatilla and Morrow Counties to enroll 80 new sections of riparian buffer systems (covering >2000 acres of lands and >100 miles of stream). The proposal identifies the disconnection of the streams with the land as a major ongoing habitat threat to fish and wildlife due to runoff effects, temperature effects, sedimentation, and so on associated with agricultural land uses. The project is primarily an effort to coordinate efforts among agencies (including USDA through CRP and CREP), outreach and promotion with landowners, and implementation monitoring following enrollment. The project's history is relatively short (2002). The two counties involved have had differing success in enrolling landowners in the program, but there is some stated opportunity that has promise. A response is needed to address ISRP questions posed on the set of SWCD riparian buffer proposals in Oregon below (also see comments on 200201900). Especially needed is reporting of past results in terms of benefit to fish and wildlife, which should show that enrollment is helping. Doing the actual habitat / fish response monitoring is not reasonable for a project like this considering the ongoing M&E effort in the basin by the co-managers. This project states that they will do some basic implementation monitoring; this should include photo-points. This is a well-prepared proposal and thought-out project. The project is expected to improve habitat quality for bull trout and summer steelhead through watershed and in-channel improvements to water quality, temperature, reduced sedimentation, etc. Benefits to secondary focal species, especially wildlife, are expected from the creation of extra habitat complexity. Implementation will be a challenge depending on willingness of landowners and stability of USDA conservation programs, but population responses are expected. Ultimately, favorable earlier review comments by ISRP still apply: "Fundable. See comments below for this set of SWCD proposals. The cost effectiveness of this and similar projects for accelerating habitat restoration activities is impressive. The proposal is well prepared. Protection of riparian areas is an important part of watershed restoration. It is troublesome, however, that some potential participants in the program have declined. The reason offered was a lack of staff. However, there was a proven record of accomplishment and an experienced planner. They should pick at least one buffer site as a model or demonstration "show case" site. A hydro-geomorphological model of a fully buffered system might prove instructive, particularly when 50 or 100-yr flood events are considered. This seems like a worthwhile project to parlay one FTE of BPA funds to attain over $2 million in other funds. The proposed work to foster riparian buffer protection and rehab is surely needed and in the regional plans. Drumming up landowner interest is a big job and one that seems to have slipped recently. Riparian buffers are good in their own right for fish and wildlife, but it would have been good to have the affected fish species listed. Better recognition of other BPA-funded projects in the area would have been useful. There is no M&E, but good riparian improvement may be judged without a specially funded study, or by using a modeling approach and/or demonstration sites. We applaud the partnership approach.” The proposed project directly addresses objectives in the Umatilla Subbasin Plan with regard to focal species and non-focal species (both fish and wildlife). The project directly addresses current limiting factors and also water quality issues. The objectives are clearly presented. The primary overarching objective is to increase enrollment in USDA buffer programs. The objectives also include monitoring of plant species composition and implementation monitoring. The measures for these objectives are primarily in relation to enrollment and coverage, but are suitable for this kind of proposed project. The methods are clearly stated, albeit not especially science-based -- planning, outreach, promotion, coordination, and implementation monitoring. That said, the project is based on needs identified in the subbasin plan from modeling (two modeling approaches were indicated without specific reference, this could be bolstered to strengthen the compelling need), but are based on long-standing scientific information about the benefits of riparian habitats. Monitoring of plant species composition is included as work element as is implementation monitoring. By and large success of the program will be measured against ability to enroll the 80 systems (and associated coverage). Missing is some coordination with fish and wildlife co-managers regarding the responses of the focal and non-focal species to these expected habitat improvements (these should show up as positive responses in the EDT and other models). General Comment on Oregon SWCD Riparian Buffer Projects: As with other riparian buffer projects the evaluation aspect could be enhanced by evaluating factors influencing enrollment (although this proposal is notable for having included some discussion of this aspect in the rationale section) and lessons learned from the development and implementation of these contracts. The ISRP recommends that the Oregon SWCDs work together to identify general findings as well as outcomes that vary by SWCD. The evaluation could identify ways to tie in outreach and education with landowner incentives and constraints. Additional thinking might be developed on how to target new audiences. The ISRP requests a response clarifying the following issues identified in the review: 1. The potential to develop a cooperative effort with ODFW to monitor fisheries and stream habitat response to the implementation of riparian buffers. 2. How enrollment objectives are determined. 3. Whether the conservation plans developed as part of CREP enrollment are kept confidential or are reported as part of the project results. If conservation plans are not reported, can they be synthesized in a way that will allow monitoring of progress toward meeting their objectives? 4. The potential for SWCD collaborative development of a report assessing the determinants of successful implementation processes for riparian buffer contracts and other USDA voluntary conservation programs.

State/province recommendation: Not fundable due to budget constraints

Review group: OSPIT - Plateau

Recommended budgets: FY07: (n/a) | FY08: (n/a) | FY09: (n/a)

Comment: OSPIT notes DEQ's support for buffer projects as a TMDL implementation and habitat benefits, but the budget will not permit implementation at this time.