Counting salmon essential measure of recovery efforts

Either count the fish or count on many more decades of debate about what's helping and what's hurting Pacific Northwest salmon.

That's what leaders of a yearlong effort to determine the best ways of monitoring salmon conservation efforts say in a report issued Dec. 1. In Washington state alone, there are 200 organized efforts by agencies, tribes and environmental groups to count fish but none are being done as part of validation monitoring a scientifically designed plan that establishes cause-and-effect between conservation efforts and responses by fish.

"Indeed, there are many scientists and managers who resist the idea of counting salmon as being too complex and costly," says John Calhoun, director of the University of Washington's Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, Wash. The study focuses on Northwest salmon but has implications for monitoring conservation plans across the nation, including those for Atlantic salmon and other wildlife.

Calhoun convened a group of 15 North American scientists who've spent their careers studying Pacific Northwest salmon or are experts at monitoring natural resources. Led by David Peterson, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a UW professor, and Dan Botkin, a research scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the group is the first of its kind not affiliated with implementing any specific salmon plan, yet one charged with looking at what all plans should consider as part of monitoring results.

"Most conservation plans and most permits issued by federal agencies are based on habitat conditions, which assume that if the habitat is adequate, then the number of salmon will improve," Calhoun says. "Yet there is no evidence that the billions of dollars spent on conservation practices are having a positive impact on salmon numbers, a negative impact or no impact."

"There is no other field of science or engineering that I can think of where we purposefully ignore count

Contact: Sandra Hines
University of Washington

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