This month, YBFWRB Lead Entity Coordinator Michael Horner attended the 20th annual River Restoration Northwest symposium, held in the beautiful Columbia Gorge at Stevenson, Washington. The speakers represented government agencies, consulting firms, tribes, and other entities. They included professionals from a wide variety of disciplines including environmental engineering, geomorphology, fisheries biologists, GIS, and other fields.

Two invited speakers were featured at the symposium, including Janine Castro, PhD, Project Leader for the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (CRFWCO). In her talk, Return to the Future: River Restoration in Retrospect, Castro provided an overview of the evolution of river restoration research and practices. She detailed the transition from a focus on bank full width informing designs intended to constrain and transport flood discharge to the insights provided by the channel evolution model that floodplains connected by multiple, unconstrained channels allow the erosion, deposition, and transport of sediment to occur in the appropriate reaches. A room of people watch a presentationBryan Mercier, Northwest Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), presented Tribal Leadership in Fish and Wildlife Management. In his talk, he detailed the changing role of the BIA in restoration from a federally led approach to one of increasing tribal leadership. While this has led to a smaller footprint for the BIA, it opens opportunities to federally recognized tribes and others to take the lead on environmental restoration projects.

Several sessions and poster talks focused on topics ranging from human-environment interactions to technical approaches in river restoration. Various speakers addressed the environmental justice implications of climate change, using technologies such as GIS to map climate change impacts on communities, as well as considering diversity, equity, and inclusion criteria in grant making in order to integrate environmental justice into planning and funding decisions. Moving into the policy realm, a panel of speakers from FEMA and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation discussed the requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program and recent changes to the Conditional Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR) process. In terms of technical approaches to restoration projects, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) staff discussed best practices and metrics for installing large woody debris, designing climate-resilient transportation projects, adaptive management, and the evolution of fish passage projects by WSDOT.

Viewpoint looking over the Columbia River Gorge at sunrise

An entire session focused on the impending removal of four dams on the Klamath River, where symposium attendees were introduced to the environmental history of this basin – home to farmers, three federally recognized tribes, and a historically robust salmon fishery (interrupted by the construction of four hydroelectric and diversion dams). After decades of attempts to build a comprehensive settlement of water conflicts between agriculture, hydroelectric production, and habitat requirements, the Klamath dam removal initiative was finally reached between the dam’s operator, the States of California and Oregon, and the Karuk and Yurok tribes, resulting in the removal of all four dams as soon as 2023. This will be the largest dam removal project in history! Speakers discussed restoration projects that will be required following the dams’ removal such as monitoring sediment released into the watershed, invasive plant management, and the revegetation of the drained reservoirs.

For Michael, it was an exciting experience to attend River Restoration Northwest. It was his first professional conference since entering the resource management profession after joining the Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board in April 2021. He particularly enjoyed the breadth of topics covered during the symposium, with both the policy and technical topics relevant to his job advising salmon restoration project sponsors.