Day One at River Restoration Northwest

Each year the applied river restoration community gathers in southern Washington to exchange information, discuss project developments, meet and greet. The event that brings this large network of consultancies, agency personnel, non-profits, tribes and local government is River Restoration Northwest's annual symposium. Held at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington, this event runs three days with a set of plenary talks from speakers who come to the Gorge from across the country.

Today was the opening day of talks and it started off with a bang. Martin Doyle, of Duke University, kicked off the morning with a great talk on how compensatory mitigation has failed in North Carolina. He framed his arguments from ecological, economic and historical perspectives, outlining how the biggest problem in stream and wetland restoration is that it's cheap, which gives incentives to develop and mitigate rather than conserve or develop wisely. Lots of expensive restoration inevitably occurs in ecologically unimportant areas under the current paradigm, which seems to be a product of state failures, a broken system and development that can be compensated for outside of the impacted watershed. Doyle delivered it with a dry sense of humor and abundant wit, something that's hard when talking shop on policy and mitgation.

After Martin Doyle, there were some musings on river restoration certification and restoration program building. These were interesting ideas, but the fireworks didn't start until Phil Roni of NOAA Fisheries stepped up to debunk some myths about wood in rivers. First Roni argued that the perception that wood was never part of systems is a product of rampant wood removal, following up by showing how wood "fails" as a restoration tool when used as a part of processes rather than as stand-alone, stable projects. He finished by arguing that identifying if wood is even a limiting factor can help guide expectations for habitat improvement. Jim MacCartney of Trout Unlimited followed Roni, showing how species composition and size influenced how wood was transported within Northeastern low-order rivers. Both talks were great.

The massive Clark Fork Milltown Dam had an entire session dedicated to it, but the focus was largely on engineering and project constraints rather than results. When this project begins to take form under dynamic hydrology and propagule pressure, it should start to get really interesting.

Joe Wheaton, Michael Pollock, Chris Jordan, Wally Macfarlane, and Nick Bouwes, the CHAMP project team who also teaches an annual beaver short course, brought their show on the road teaching an intensive one day course on how to design stream restorations with beaver and their dams. Macfarlane did a great job of discussing his model on how beaver fit into the landscape and how their dam success and density can be predicted using coarse-resolution data. Chris followed this up discussing how to set monitoring and experimental frameworks that parse out variability and allow restorationists to make inference about their work. Michael discussed the rationale behind using beavers in Oregon's Bridge Creek while Nick and Joe drove home the resulting changes in physical habitat and fish recruitment following dam creation.

Tomorrow brings talks on embracing uncertainty in river restoration and a poster session, as well as talks about restoring riparian vegetation in incised systems. Follow all the action on twitter using the hashtag #RRNW2013 or check out the abstracts over at http://rrnw.org.