Environmental Management

, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 1246–1261 | Cite as

Application of Science-Based Restoration Planning to a Desert River System

  • Brian G. LaubEmail author
  • Justin Jimenez
  • Phaedra Budy


Persistence of many desert river species is threatened by a suite of impacts linked to water infrastructure projects that provide human water security where water is scarce. Many desert rivers have undergone regime shifts from spatially and temporally dynamic ecosystems to more stable systems dominated by homogenous physical habitat. Restoration of desert river systems could aid in biodiversity conservation, but poses formidable challenges due to multiple threats and the infeasibility of recovery to pre-development conditions. The challenges faced in restoring desert rivers can be addressed by incorporating scientific recommendations into restoration planning efforts at multiple stages, as demonstrated here through an example restoration project. In particular, use of a watershed-scale planning process can identify data gaps and irreversible constraints, which aid in developing achievable restoration goals and objectives. Site-prioritization focuses limited the resources for restoration on areas with the greatest potential to improve populations of target organisms. Investment in research to understand causes of degradation, coupled with adoption of a guiding vision is critical for identifying feasible restoration actions that can enhance river processes. Setting monitoring as a project goal, developing hypotheses for expected outcomes, and implementing restoration as an experimental design will facilitate adaptive management and learning from project implementation. Involvement of scientists and managers during all planning stages is critical for developing process-based restoration actions and an implementation plan to maximize learning. The planning process developed here provides a roadmap for use of scientific recommendations in future efforts to recover dynamic processes in imperiled riverine ecosystems.


Adaptive management Native fish Riparian vegetation River restoration Site prioritization Systematic planning 



Restoration planning was supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Bring Back the Natives Program, Project 0901.11.027140. Additional funding was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (in-kind). The efforts of all individuals on the San Rafael Restoration team made restoration planning possible, particularly J. Bottcher, S. Fortney, and T. Walsworth through their detailed scientific investigations. The manuscript was substantially improved by comments from P. Belmont and two reviewers on previous drafts. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the United States Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Watershed Sciences, The Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Bureau of Land ManagementUtah State OfficeSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological Survey, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

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