Skip to main content

A Large-Scale, Multiagency Approach to Defining a Reference Network for Pacific Northwest Streams

Abstract

Aquatic monitoring programs vary widely in objectives and design. However, each program faces the unifying challenge of assessing conditions and quantifying reasonable expectations for measured indicators. A common approach for setting resource expectations is to define reference conditions that represent areas of least human disturbance or most natural state of a resource characterized by the range of natural variability across a region of interest. Identification of reference sites often relies heavily on professional judgment, resulting in varying and unrepeatable methods. Standardized methods for data collection, site characterization, and reference site selection facilitate greater cooperation among assessment programs and development of assessment tools that are readily shareable and comparable. We illustrate an example that can serve the broader global monitoring community on how to create a consistent and transparent reference network for multiple stream resource agencies. We provide a case study that offers a simple example of how reference sites can be used, at the landscape level, to link upslope management practices to a specific in-channel response. We found management practices, particularly areas with high road densities, have more fine sediments than areas with fewer roads. While this example uses data from only one of the partner agencies, if data were collected in a similar manner they can be combined and create a larger, more robust dataset. We hope that this starts a dialog regarding more standardized ways through inter-agency collaborations to evaluate data. Creating more consistency in physical and biological field protocols will increase the ability to share data.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  • Al-Chokhachy R, Roper BB, Archer EK (2010) Evaluating the status and trends of physical stream habitat in headwater streams within the Interior Columbia River and Upper Missouri River basins using an index approach. Trans Am Fish Soc 139(4):1041–1059

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anlauf KJ, Jensen DW, Burnett KM, Steel EA, Christiansen K, Firman JC, Feist BE, Larsen DP (2011) Explaining spatial variability in stream habitat using both natural and management—influenced landscape predictors. Aquat Conserv 21:704–714

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bailey RG (1980) Description of the ecoregions of the United States. No. 1391. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

  • Bailey RG, Avers PE, King T, McNab WH (eds). (1994) Ecoregions and subregions of the United States [map 1:7,500,000]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington. (With supplementary table of map unit descriptions)

  • Bailey RC, Norris RH, Reynoldson TB (2004) Bioassessment of freshwater ecosystems: using the reference condition approach. Springer, New York, 1–15

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Baker M, Wiley M, Seelbach P, Carlson M (2003) A GIS model of subsurface water potential for aquatic resource inventory, assessment, and environmental management. Environ Manag 32:706

  • Cao Y, Hawkins CP, Olson J, Kosterman MA (2007) Modeling natural environmental gradients improves the accuracy and precision of diatom-based indicators. J N Am Benthol Soci 26(3):566–585

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cao Y, Hawkins CP (2011) The comparability of bioassessments: a review of conceptual and methodological issues. J N Am Benthol Soc 30:680–701

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collier KJ, Haigh A, Kelly J (2007) Coupling GIS and multivariate approached to reference site selection for wadable stream monitoring. Environ Monit Assess 127:29–45

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Daigle P (2010) A summary of the environmental impacts of roads, management responses, and research gaps: a literature review. BC J Ecosyst Manag 10(3):65–89

    Google Scholar 

  • Davies SP, Jackson SK (2006) The biological condition gradient: a descriptive model for interpreting change in aquatic ecosystems. Ecol Appl 16(4):1251–1266

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davies PE, Wright JF, Sutcliffe DW, Furse MT (2000) Development of a national river bioassessment system (AUSRIVAS) in Australia. In Assessing the biological quality of fresh waters: RIVPACS and other techniques. Proceedings of an International Workshop held in Oxford, UK, on 16-18 September 1997. Freshwater Biological Association (FBA), p 113–124

  • Dose JJ, Roper BB (1994) Long-term changes in low flow channel widths within three Southern Umpqua Watersheds, Oregon. Water Resour Bull 30:993–1000

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Furniss MJ, Roelofs TD, Yee CS (1991) Road construction and maintenance. In: Meehan WR (ed) Influences of forest and rangeland management on salmonid fishes and their habitats. Special Publication 19, American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, p 389–424

  • Grant GE, Lewis SL, Swanson FJ, Cissel JH, Mcdonnell JJ (2008) Effects of forest practices on peak flows and consequent channel response: a state-of-science report for western Oregon and Washington. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-760. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland

  • Hawkins CP, Olson J, Hill RA (2010) The reference condition: predicting benchmarks for ecological and water-quality assessments. J N Am Benthol Soc 29(1):312–343

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herlihy AT, Paulsen SG, Van Sickle J, Stoddard JL, Hawkins CP, Yuan L (2008) Striving for consistency in a national assessment: the challenges of applying a reference condition approach on a continental scale. J N Am Benthol Soc 27:860–877

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hughes RM, Larsen DP, Omernik (1986) Regional reference sites: a method for assessing stream health potentials. Environ Manag 10:629–635

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kondolf GM (2000) Assessing salmonid spawning gravel quality. Trans Am Fish Soc 129:262–281

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Larsen DP, Kincaid TM, Jacobs SE, Urquhart NS (2001) Designs for evaluating local and regional scale trends. Bioscience 51:1069–1078

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lisle TE (1989) Sediment transport and resulting deposition in spawning gravels, north coastal California. Water Resour Res 25(6):1303–1319

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald AJ, Cote D (2014) Temporal variability of benthic invertebrate communities at reference sites in eastern Newfoundland and its significance in long-term monitoring. J Freshw Ecol 29(2):201–211

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McHenry ML, Morril DC, Currence E (1994) Spawning gravel quality, watershed characteristics and early life history survival of Coho Salmon and Steelhead in Five North Olympic Peninsula Watersheds. Washington State Department of Ecology, Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe, Port Angeles

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller SA, Bartow A, Gisler M, Ward K, Young AS, Kaye TN (2011) Can an ecoregion serve as a seed transfer zone? Evidence from a common garden study with five native species. Restor Ecol 19(201):268–276

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller S, Eldred P, Beloin R, Wilcox S, Raggon M, Andersen A, Gordon S, Muldoon A (2015) Northwest Forest Plan-the first 20 years (1994–2013): watershed condition. General Technical Report PNWGTR-932

  • Ode P, Rehn AC, May JT (2005) A quantitative tool for assessing the integrity of southern coastal California streams. Environ Manag 35:493–504

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ode P, Rehn AC, Mazor PD, Schiff KC, Stein ED, May JT, Brown LR, Herbst DB, Gillett D, Lunde K, Hawkins CP (2016) Evaluating the adequacy of a reference site pool for ecological assessments in environmentally complex regions. Freshw Sci 35(1):237–248

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oliveira RB, Baptista DF, Mugnai R, Castro CM, Hughes RM (2011) Towards rapid bioassessment of wadeable streams in Bazil: development of the Guapiaçu-Macau multimetric index (GMMI) based on benthic macroinvertebrates. Ecol Indic 11(6):1584–1593

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Olsen J, Hawkins CP (2012) Predicting natural base-flow stream water chemistry in the western United States. Water Resour Res 48(2)

  • Olsen J, Hawkins CP (2013) Developing site-specific nutrient criteria from empirical models. Freshw Sci 32(3): 719–740

  • Olsen AR, Peck G (2008) Survey design and extent estimates for the Wadeable Streams Assessment. J N Am Benthol Soc 27(4):822–836

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Omernick JM (1987) Ecoregions of the counterminous United States. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 77:118–125

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paulsen A, Mayio, Peck DV, Stoddard JL, Tarquino E, Holdsworth SM, Van Sickle J, Yuan LL, Hawkins CP, Herlihy AT, Kaufmann PR, Barbour MT, Larsen DP, Olsen AR (2008) Condition of stream ecosystems in the US: an overview of the first national assessment. J N Am Benthol Soc 27(4):812–821

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pardo MM, Gomez-Rodriguez C, Wasson JG, Owen R, van de Bund W, Kelly M, Bennet C, Birk S, Buffagni A, Erba S, Mengin N, Murray-Bligh J, Ofenboeck G (2012) The European reference condition concept to identify minimally impacted river ecosystems. Sci Total Environ 420:33–42

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pollack MM, Beechie TJ, Imaki H (2012) Using reference conditions in ecosystem restoration: an example for riparian conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest. Ecosphere 3(11):98

    Google Scholar 

  • Reeves GH, Williams JE, Burnett KM, Gallo K (2006) The aquatic conservation strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan. Conserv Biol 20(2):319–329

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reyonldson GH, Norris RH, Resh VH, Day KE, Rosenberg DM (2007) The reference condition: a comparision of multimetric and multivariate approaches to assess water-qulaity impairment using benthic macroinvertebrates. J N Am Benthol Soc 16(4):833–852

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • SAS Institute (2011) Cary, NC

  • Seaber PR, Kapinos FP, Knapp GL (1987) Hyrdologic unit maps: US Geological Survey (USGS). Water Supply Paper 2294:63

    Google Scholar 

  • Snelder TH, Cattanéo F, Suren AM, Biggs BF (2004) Is the river environment classification an improved landscape-scale classification of rivers? J N Am Benthol Soc 23(3):580–598

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stoddard JL, Larsen DP, Hawkins CP, Johnson RK, Norris RH (2006) Setting expectations for the ecological condition of running waters: the concept of reference condition. Ecol Appl 16:1267–1276

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stoddard JL, Herlihy AT, Peck DV, Hughes RM, Whittier TR, Tarquinio E (2008) A process for creating multimetric indices for large-scale aquatic surveys. J N Am Benthol Soc 27:878–891

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trombulak SC, Frissell CA (2000) Review of ecological effects of roads on terrestrial and aquatic communities. Conserv Biol 14(1):18–30

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whittier TR, Stoddard JL, Larsen DP, Herlihy AT (2007) Selecting reference sites for stream biological assessments: Best professional judgment or objective criteria. J N Am Benthol Soc 26:349–360

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yates AG, Bailey RC (2010) Selecting objectively defined streams for bioassessment programs. Environ Monit Assess 170:129–140

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We thank Chuck Hawkins and Scott Miller of the Utah State Western Monitoring Center and Aquatic Ecology Lab, and Sean Gordon of Portland State University, for constructive comments throughout the development of this manuscript, Raphael Mazor provided R code for PCA graphics, and Steve Wilcox constructed maps and performed reference final screening. This work was funded by the BLM, Forest Service (Regions 5 & 6), and the Environmental Protection agency through interagency support of the Northwest Forest Plan Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Program.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephanie Miller.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Miller, S., Eldred, P., Muldoon, A. et al. A Large-Scale, Multiagency Approach to Defining a Reference Network for Pacific Northwest Streams. Environmental Management 58, 1091–1104 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-016-0739-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-016-0739-6

Keywords

  • Reference site
  • Minimally disturbed
  • Aquatic
  • Stream
  • Monitoring