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Contemporary environmental assessment using a viability analysis in a large river system to inform restoration and adaptive management decisions

March 12, 2019

As large-scale restoration plans for degraded aquatic habitats evolve, it is essential that multiorganizational collaborations have a common vision to achieve consensus on restoration goals. Development of restoration targets and postrestoration monitoring strategies can be focused using a viability analysis framework that supports an adaptive management process. Viability analysis is a robust and accommodating framework, adaptable to any restoration monitoring program and, through the determination of common desired endpoints, can aid consensus building and collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries. In the St. Clair-Detroit River System, which is the Great Lakes connecting channel between southern Lake Huron and western Lake Erie, a viability analysis framework was used to evaluate environmental parameters associated with fisheries and aquatic restoration efforts and to gauge the overall health of the aquatic environment. Steps to derive the viability analysis were as follows: (1) establishing meaningful baseline metrics, (2) identifying information deficiencies, and (3) placing the context of current conditions into a usable format for managers and practitioners. Most geographic segments were designated in overall fair condition, and the conservation targets were designated in either good or fair condition, based on available assessed indicators. Many indicators were unable to be assessed or assigned condition status, which identified research and monitoring data gaps. Metrics associated with native migratory fishes, Lake St. Clair, and islands are generally in better condition than metrics associated with the coastal terrestrial systems, aerial migrants, and coastal wetlands. These results were not unexpected given the highly urbanized landscape of the St. Clair-Detroit River System. Resource managers in the corridor can use these results to identify knowledge gaps, research and restoration priorities, and to assess progress towards meeting restoration goals.