Environmental Management

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 245–255 | Cite as

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

  • Gretchen G. Alexander
  • J. David AllanEmail author


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 



This study work was part of the NRRSS, a working group supported by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. We thank Margaret Palmer, Emily Bernhardt, and other members of the working group for their input, and we thank the C.S. Mott Foundation and the University of Michigan for providing funding for the Upper Midwest portion of NRRSS. We especially thank all of the interview subjects for their willing participation in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental ConservationVermont Agency of Natural ResourcesWaterburyUSA
  2. 2.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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