Hulse research helps win restoration prize
For the past 20 years, David Hulse has researched how to preserve and restore the Willamette River Basin. For Hulse – the Philip H. Knight Professor of landscape architecture at UO – no award is higher than receiving the 2012 Thiess International RiverPrize, the equivalent to the Nobel Prize for river restoration.
Matthew Reddy of the International RiverFoundation, which presents the annual global award, believes Hulse’s work and the work of other members of the Willamette River Initiative have made the river “a true American turn-around story and richly deserving of the world’s most valuable environmental award.”
The International RiverFoundation awarded the RiverPrize to the Willamette River Initiative of Oregon in October. Presented in Melbourne, Australia, the award is accompanied with a $300,000 cash prize, which will be directed toward further restoration efforts of the Willamette. The prize’s other finalists were the Okavango River Basin (Angola, Botswana, and Namibia), Prespa Lakes (Greece), and the Nushagak River (Alaska).
Above: Willamette River Basin trajectories of change. Image from Willamette River Basin Planning Atlas.
Hulse’s research has produced guiding documents and key framework to measure and evaluate restoration efforts. Hulse also has offered students the opportunity to engage in and learn from his research through graduate fellowships and other student work-study positions, and by providing courses on river restoration.
The Willamette River Initiative was chosen for its effective, collaborative approach that has resulted in marked improvements to the health of the river over the past decade. The project has tackled challenges including toxic chemical threat, high water temperatures, a confined channel, dam-altered flows, loss of floodplain forests, population growth, and climate change.
The Willamette River Basin is nearly 180 miles long and 100 miles wide. Five of Oregon’s ten largest cities are located along the river, and the population of the Willamette Valley is expected to grow by 1.7 million people by 2050. The basin consists of many stakeholders – including federal, state, local, nonprofit, and land trusts – involved in the planning, management, and regulation of activities that affect the river.
In 2002, after six years of research and community input, Hulse, together with Professor Stanley V. Gregory of Oregon State University, produced one of the foundational documents for restoration of the river basin – the “Willamette River Basin Planning Atlas.“
The atlas is “a scientifically defensible and hard to argue with statement of fact about the condition of the basin, past and present, both biophysical and sociocultural,” Hulse says. “With extensive involvement from citizens up and down, left and right of the Willamette River Basin, it is a spatially and temporally explicit depiction of three alternative futures for the basin to the year 2050.”
The three alternative futures include Plan Trend 2050, which assumes that long-term plans and policies are fully implemented; Development 2050, which assumes a market-based approach to water and land use; and Conservation 2050, which assumes ecological prioritization of land and water resources.
Above: Photo of Willamette River in the morning. Photo courtesy David Hulse.
Hulse and Gregory have also developed the framework being used by the Willamette River Initiative to spatially track key metrics of river health. The framework prioritizes lands well suited for conservation or restoration given their biophysical and sociocultural characteristics; monitors the river’s floodplain; and tracks key variables such as amount of floodplain forest, channel complexity, and cold water refuges for salmon. Tracking these variables presents a picture of the river’s health and allows the initiative to focus on areas needing site-specific monitoring.
Hulse – a founding member of UO’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment – has received more than $4 million for his research since 2001 from sources including the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This funding has advanced the Willamette River Initiative’s work by guiding the ongoing SLICES framework.
The RiverPrize provides acknowledgement of the Willamette River Initiative’s work and highlights the splendor and beauty of the river, which, Hulse believes, deserves recognition by all Oregonians.
“The Willamette has its problem, there is no question about it,” Hulse says, “but it’s still an undiscovered treasure and there are so many things about it that, if we choose wisely, our kids, our grandkids, and their grandkids are going to be really grateful for.”
One thing is certain, Hulse is not finished. “We’re a long way from done, but we are in the midst of an upward trend in the trajectory of efforts in the Willamette,” he says.
Many people agree, and the success of Hulse’s work and the work of countless others deserve praise. The RiverPrize is a good start.
Story by Joe McAndrew