About the Uncertainties Database

See the report linked above, and these pages specifically:

Background: The 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program (hereafter Program) calls for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to review ongoing research and revise the Program’s Research Plan. The 2006 Research Plan (Council Document 2006-3) lists 44 critical uncertainties, defined as “important knowledge gaps about resources and the functional relationships that determine fish and wildlife productivity in the Columbia River ecosystem.” To help update the Research Plan, the Council asked the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) and Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) to reexamine these uncertainties and to recommend revisions after reviewing progress achieved by current research, monitoring, and evaluation projects within the Program.

Important Note: The ISAB/ISRP emphasize that its evaluation is largely based on review of annual reports of current Fish and Wildlife Program projects and the cumulative knowledge and expertise of its members rather than a quantitative analysis of empirical data or extensive review of the current scientific literature pertaining to each uncertainty. To increase consistency in its evaluations, the ISAB/ISRP developed guidance criteria for identifying and prioritizing uncertainties. Nevertheless, we want to acknowledge and emphasize the qualitative nature of the prioritization process.

This ISAB/ISRP review and identification of critical uncertainties is one step in the Council’s process to update the Program’s research plan. Subsequent steps will ensure meaningful opportunity for public input. The ISAB/ISRP emphasize that additional contributions from fish and wildlife managers, project proponents, researchers, and others are needed to inform the Council’s research plan development process.

Sources: The uncertainties database contains a compilation of uncertainties drawn from over 130 regional reports and plans including uncertainties submitted during the 2014 Program amendment process. Before the ISAB/ISRP review, Council staff had reviewed these and other sources (including ISAB and ISRP reports), identified uncertainties or statements that could be research topics, and compiled a list of about 1400 uncertainties in a draft uncertainties database. The source of each uncertainty was recorded in the database along with other contextual information. The ISAB/ISRP worked with Council staff to identify and merge redundant uncertainties and reduced the list to about 700 uncertainties, which are viewable in the database. If an uncertainty was derived from a number of sources, the various sources are documented with the particular uncertainty.

All Uncertainties and Priority Uncertainties

Themes: The uncertainties are organized by the following 14 themes, which are consistent with the high level themes in the 2006 Research Plan, the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, and the Taurus project database:

  • public engagement
  • human development
  • tributary habitat
  • hydrosystem flow and passage operations
  • mainstem habitat
  • estuary, plume, and ocean
  • contaminants
  • climate change
  • non-native species
  • predation
  • fish propagation
  • harvest
  • population structure and diversity
  • monitoring and evaluation methods

Although each uncertainty is categorized under a single theme that seemed most appropriate, most uncertainties represent an interconnection of topics and require an ecosystem approach to fish and wildlife research and management.

Subthemes: For each of the 14 primary themes, the ISAB/ISRP evaluated the sets of uncertainties and developed more detailed outlines of subthemes or categories to reflect a logical flow of inquiry under each primary theme. In general, uncertainties were organized under three subthemes: (1) assessment, (2) impact, and (3) management to reflect the Council’s desire for more detailed categorization than in the 2006 Research Plan.

Prioritization: ISAB/ISRP teams also assessed the importance (criticality) of each uncertainty. Prior to making these appraisals, general guidance on how progress and criticality should be assessed were developed (see ISAB and ISRP Critical Uncertainties Report, Appendices B and C, pages 148-150). Three criticality ratings were possible: low, medium, and high. Over 200 uncertainties that would improve decision-making and management actions to protect, mitigate, and enhance Basin fish and wildlife were given “high” criticality ratings. The ISAB/ISRP reexamined the uncertainties given a high rating and produced a set of “priority” critical uncertainties within each primary theme that the Council could consider when developing its new Research Plan. These 50 “priority” critical uncertainties, along with rationales describing why they were judged to be priority questions are presented in Part 1 of the ISAB and ISRP’s full Critical Uncertainties report and viewable in the database.

2006 Questions: These 44 critical uncertainties are from the 2006 Research Plan for the Fish and Wildlife Program. This table addresses the Council’s review question to the ISAB and ISRP: “Is ongoing research making progress in answering critical uncertainties in the current [2006] research plan?” The ISAB/ISRP evaluated the most recent annual progress reports for 187 ongoing 2015 Fish and Wildlife Program projects that contain a research, monitoring, or evaluation work element[1] to determine the extent to which the projects directly address or could potentially help address the 2006 Research Plan critical uncertainties.

“Direct” means that the project directly addresses the 2006 Research Plan critical uncertainty (CU), at least in part, by testing a hypothesis associated with the CU or by generating results that are contributing or will contribute to resolving the CU and to improving Fish and Wildlife management decisions and actions. Most of the studies we reviewed were restricted to particular species or locations whereas the 2006 CUs typically include multiple species and are basinwide in scope. Consequently, projects were identified as “Direct” even if they addressed only part of an uncertainty as long as information generated by the project was being applied or could help to resolve some aspect of the critical uncertainty. The fact that numerous projects address an uncertainty does not imply that the uncertainty is comprehensively addressed.

Indirect or Potential” means that data gathered by the project is (1) being used by another project to address a critical uncertainty or (2) could potentially address a critical uncertainty, but to be useful, additional analysis, compilation, and synthesis would be required. These “potential” connections highlight opportunities for further data analysis, collaboration, and coordination among projects. They show that data collected through monitoring and evaluation projects may be used to develop and test hypotheses. Notably, some ISAB/ ISRP reviewers liberally identified potential connections while others were more conservative. Thus, the results should be viewed as a snapshot of opportunities for additional analyses or collaborations to address uncertainties.

The ISAB/ISRP evaluations of “Progress” are only approximate because they are based primarily on information contained in annual reports and limited by the ISAB/ISRP members’ familiarity with the literature connected to each uncertainty.

[1] BPA defines a work element as a “standardized task or activity performed by BPA’s Fish and Wildlife program. Examples include Install Fence, Collect Data, Purchase Land, and Submit Progress Report.”


Contact Erik Merrill for more information.