2011-12  Planning Process


The Nehalem River planning process utilized and adapted The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Action Planning (CAP) methodology to guide the work of the planning team. The CAP approach works to develop and measure the success of effective conservation strategies (Parrish et al. 2003). It has been refined by a partnership of diverse international organizations and used all over the world in a variety of situations. Details about the CAP approach may be found at: www.conservationgateway.org

The Nehalem CAP planning process included five major steps, adapted from the Conservancy’s CAP approach:

Step 1: Identification of Targets – the specific biodiversity on which the planning effort will focus

Step 2: Determination of Target Health – the current status of each target and whether or not that status is within an acceptable range of variation

Step 3: Identification of Impacts – factors that are expected to harm or impair targets now and in the future

Step 4: Assessment of Situation Factors – recognize the social, economic, political and cultural factors contributing to the impacts or representing opportunities to enhance the health of the biodiversity

Step 5: Selection of Conservation and Restoration Actions – activities and projects that may be undertaken to abate priority Impacts and improve Target Health in the situation at hand

Conservation Action Planning is designed to address a complete project cycle—including design, implementation and evaluation. The process is meant to be iterative and inform adaptive management; as actions are taken and outcomes are measured, conservation action plans are revised to incorporate new knowledge. The Stakeholder Group in conjunction with the Nehalem CAP Core team has established a team to guide implementation of the remaining components of the CAP process (see Implementation Team). Some version of the planning team may re-convene in future years to re-evaluate and update this plan.

Each iteration of the plan strives to incorporate the best available information to assess target health and identify impacts. However, it is recognized that planning teams will rarely, if ever, have access to perfect information about the biodiversity of interest. The CAP process asks teams to identify the most critical components that make up the health or viability of the target as well as suitable indicators that can be measured to determine their status. Ideally, the indicators are things that are already being monitored by some entity in the area, but that is often not the case.

One action that is often identified during the planning process is to initiate additional monitoring to fill these key data gaps. Therefore, early iterations of CAP plans often have missing data or gaps in the health assessment tables in particular. Teams are encouraged to document their current understanding of the situation even if it is based solely on the expert knowledge of planning team members. Situation diagrams provide a graphical representation of the team’s working hypothesis of how the proposed strategies are expected to improve the situation and lead back to improved health of the targets.


Targets are the basis for setting goals, carrying out conservation actions, and measuring conservation effectiveness. They are intended to be on a larger scale because in theory, conserving the targets will lead to the conservation of all natural biodiversity within functional landscapes. The goal is to take the list of hundreds of potential targets and select a limited number that adequately represent and encompass the biodiversity in the project area. “Nested targets” can also be identified to capture specific elements that may not warrant individual target status.

Targets identified for the Nehalem CAP process are:

  • Forests
  • Freshwater System
  • Riparian
  • Estuary & Associated Ecosystems
  • Open Lands
  • Columbia Basaltic Ridge

This CAP document is organized by target. Each of the targets is defined at the beginning of their section in the plan. There is overlap among these targets and the systems are inter-related and dependent upon each other as they are all integral components of a larger functional ecosystem in the Nehalem watershed. These are the divisions that this planning team, with input from the Technical teams, found most helpful for focusing their discussion of conservation issues in this watershed.

Nested Targets

Nested targets are species or plant communities of concern[1] whose presence in the Nehalem is confirmed by the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center (formerly the Oregon Heritage Program) or on-site observations. Since these species and communities inhabit the focal target systems, it is assumed that through the protection of the targets the nested targets are also protected. For example, by protecting the upland forests you are also protecting Spotted Owls, Flycatchers, and other species of concern that live in these systems (see Forest Nested Targets). Priority species identified by ODFW or OWEB that may exist in the Nehalem Watershed, but have not been documented to occur, are listed separately.

Health Assessment

In this step of the CAP process, the planning teams looked at each target carefully to determine how to measure its “health” over time. A healthy target is able to withstand or recover from most natural or anthropogenic disturbances and thus to persist for many generations or over long time periods. Part of this process involves identifying the aspects of a target’s biology or ecology that, if missing or altered, would lead to the loss of that target over time. These are termed Key Ecological Attributes (KEA for short). And then identifying Indicators that can be measured to tell us how the target is doing today and in the future. The teams also hypothesize what a “healthy state” might look like by setting Thresholds for the indicators based on an acceptable range of variation. Indicator measurements that fall within the range considered ecologically acceptable are given a Good or Very Good rating, those that are outside of the acceptable range of variability are rated Fair or Poor. This step is the key to knowing which targets are most in need of immediate attention, and for measuring success over time.

Impact Rating

This step helps teams to identify the various factors that immediately (or within ten years) affect the targets and then rank them so the team can concentrate their conservation actions where they are most needed. For each target, the planning team brainstormed the things they thought could negatively impact the health of the target. The resulting lists of impacts were then ranked based on the team’s understanding of the Scope or spatial extent of the impact, the Severity or level of damage, and Irreversibility or permanence of the impact (see Appendix for detailed impact ranking criteria).

Situational Analysis

This step asks teams to describe their current understanding of the project situation – both the biological issues and the human context in which the project occurs. This step is not meant to be an unbounded analysis, but instead probes more deeply into the conditions surrounding the critical impacts and degraded targets to bring explicit attention/consideration to causal factors, key actors, and opportunities for successful action. The resulting situation diagrams provide a graphical representation of the team’s working hypothesis of how the proposed priority strategies are expected to improve the situation and lead back to improved health of the targets.

Goals & Objectives

Goals were developed to represent broad visions of desired future conditions, mostly on very long timeframes. Objectives are more discrete pieces of the work that can be completed in a 10-20 year timeframe but will ultimately help lead to the achievement of the goals.

A Goal is a formal statement detailing the desired effects of a project. In conservation projects, it is the desired future status of a target. A good goal meets the criteria of being:

Linked to Targets: Directly associated with one or more of your biodiversity targets

Impact Oriented: Represents the desired future status of the target over the long-term

Measurable: Definable in relation to some standard scale (numbers, percentage, fractions, or all/nothing states)

Specific: Clearly defined so that all people involved in the project have the same understanding of what the terms in the goal mean

An Objective is a formal statement detailing a desired outcome of a component of a project, such as reducing a critical stress. If the project is well conceptualized and designed, realization of a project’s objectives should lead to the fulfillment of the project’s goals and ultimately its vision. A good objective meets the criteria of being:

Outcome Oriented – Represents necessary changes in critical impacts and opportunity factors that affect one or more project goals

Measurable – Definable in relation to some standard scale (numbers, percentage, fractions, or all/nothing states)

Time Limited – Achievable within a specific period of time

Specific – Clearly defined so that all people involved in the project have the same understanding of what the terms in the objective mean

Practical – Achievable and appropriate within the context of the project site

[1] Based on available data from The Nature Conservancy’s Pacific Northwest Coast Ecoregional Assessment (including TNC/Heritage Ecological Data Management Tool), Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife Conservation Strategy (ODFW 2006), Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board: North Coast Priority, and input from local monitoring projects.