Environmental Management

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 245-255

First online:

Ecological Success in Stream Restoration: Case Studies from the Midwestern United States

  • Gretchen G. AlexanderAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
  • , J. David AllanAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan Email author 

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Despite rapid growth in river restoration, few projects receive the necessary evaluation and reporting to determine their success or failure and to learn from experience. As part of the National River Restoration Science Synthesis, we interviewed 39 project contacts from a database of 1,345 restoration projects in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio to (1) verify project information; (2) gather data on project design, implementation, and coordination; (3) assess the extent of monitoring; and (4) evaluate success and the factors that may influence it. Projects were selected randomly within the four most common project goals from a national database: in-stream habitat improvement, channel reconfiguration, riparian management, and water-quality improvement. Roughly half of the projects were implemented as part of a watershed management plan and had some advisory group. Monitoring occurred in 79% of projects but often was minimal and seldom documented biological improvements. Baseline data for evaluation often relied on previous data obtained under regional monitoring programs using state protocols. Although 89% of project contacts reported success, only 11% of the projects were considered successful because of the response of a specific ecological indicator, and monitoring data were underused in project assessment. Estimates of ecological success, using three criteria from Palmer and others (2005), indicated that half or fewer of the projects were ecologically successful, markedly below the success level that project contacts self-reported, and sent a strong signal of the need for well-designed evaluation programs that can document ecological success.


Adaptive management In-stream habitat Riparian River Water quality Watershed