Land & Environment

Intensively Monitored: Scientists Detail Hi-Tech River Restoration Methods

USU alum and Watershed Sciences researcher Stephen Bennett is lead author of a newly released paper detailing an emerging river restoration approach known as 'intensively monitored watersheds' or IMWs.

Utah State University scientists are among a team of authors describing an emerging research method to gauge the benefits of stream restoration for salmon and other native fish. The approach, known as intensively monitored watersheds or “IMWs,” reveals improvements in fish numbers, survival and reproduction in key rivers across the Pacific Northwest.

USU researchers Stephen Bennett, Nick Bouwes and Joe Wheaton, along with collaborators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, report at least 17 IMWs in the Northwest are beginning to provide detailed scientific insight into how the millions of dollars invested in river and stream restoration can most effectively boost fish populations. Their findings appear in the Jan. 28, 2016, online edition of Fisheries, the monthly journal of the American Fisheries Society.

“The region is putting great effort into restoring rivers and streams for fish, but what everyone wants to know is, is it working and how well?” says USU alum Bennett PhD’08, research scientist in USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences and lead author on the paper. “This is the best method we have for understanding if restoration improves watershed scale productivity, how well it works and how we can get better at it.”

Northwest salmon and steelhead have long suffered from habitat loss and degradation, and restoring that habitat is a key strategy for rebuilding their populations. Climate, ocean conditions, natural variability and other factors also influence their abundance, however, making it difficult to identify and quantity the specific contributions of habitat restoration, the researchers say.

“We’re looking for a long-term response to restoration from an animal that can vary widely from year to year,” says George Pess, research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and a co-author on the paper. “You need sufficient time and detail to be able to say, yes, the fish are increasing and, yes, it’s because of the improvements in the habitat.

Rivers and streams in IMWs are heavily outfitted with monitoring systems to track salmonids from fry to adults to determine how they respond to improvements, such as reopening wetlands where young fish rear, removing migration barriers such as dams and adding woody debris to create more diverse and natural stream habitat.

Contributors to the paper include researchers from state fisheries agencies in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, as well as Eco Logical Research, Inc. of Providence, Utah; and Cramer Fish Sciences and Weyerhaeuser Corporation of Washington.

Related links:

Contact: Joe Wheaton, 435-554-1247,

Writers: Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries, 503-231-6268; Mary-Ann Muffoletto, USU, 435-797-3517,

USU researchers and colleagues installed posts at an intensively monitored watershed in eastern Oregon's Bridge Creek to encourage beavers to build dams. The creek is among 17 research sites detailed in the team’s paper. Photo by Stephen Bennett.


Rivers 83stories Restoration 34stories

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