United States
            Protection Agency
        Office of Research
        and Development
        Washington, DC 20460
      August 2002
Wi  I  lamette  Basin  Alternative  Futures  Analysis
Alternative futures analysis is an environmental assessment
approach for helping communities make decisions about land
and water use. The process helps community members articu-
late and understand their different viewpoints and priorities.
The product is a suite of alternative "visions" for the future that
reflects the likely outcomes of the options being advocated.
The visions are expressed as maps of land use and land cover.
Potential effects of these alternative futures are then evaluated
for a wide range of ecological and socio-economic endpoints
(i.e., things people care about). By capturing the essential
elements of a complex debate in a fairly small number of alter-
native futures, combined with an objective evaluation of the
consequences of each choice, the alternative futures process
can help groups move toward common understanding and
possible resolution and collective action.
We conducted an alternative futures analysis
for the Willamette River Basin in western
Oregon, an area home to 68% of Oregon's
population. The Basin also contains the
richest native fish fauna in the State and
supports several species federally listed as
threatened or endangered, including the
northern spotted owl and spring Chinook
salmon. By 2050, the number of people in the
Basin is expected to nearly double, placing
tremendous demands on limited resources
and creating major challenges for land and
water use planning.
Three future landscapes were designed with detailed input
from local stakeholders to illustrate major strategic choices for
the Basin (Figure  1). Each was projected at 10-year intervals
through the year 2050. Plan Trend 2050 represented the
expected future landscape if current policies are implemented
as written and recent trends continue. Development 2050
reflected a loosening of current policies, to allow freer rein to
market forces across all components of the landscape, but still
within the range of what stakeholders considered plausible.
Conservation 2050 placed greater emphasis on ecosystem
protection and restoration although, as with Development
2050, still reflecting a plausible balance among ecological,
social, and economic considerations as defined by stakehold-
ers. All three futures assumed the same population increase,
from 2.0 to 3.9 million people by 2050. The three alternative
futures were compared to present-day (ca. 1990) and historical
(pre-EuroAmerican settlement, ca. 1850) landscapes, and the
likely effects evaluated on four endpoints: terrestrial wildlife,
water availability, small streams, and the Willamette River.
Changes in the Willamette River Basin have been substantial
since  1850, particularly in the valley. Conversion of land for
human use and fire suppression have lead to nearly 100%
loss of some of the valley's unique native habitats, in partic-
             ular wet and dry prairie and oak savannah. Only 20% of the
             area once covered with bottomland forest along the Willam-
             ette River remains forested today, and total river length has
             declined by 25%. Upland portions of the Basin still are
             predominately forested, although the extent of older conifers
             (> 80 years) has been reduced by about two-thirds. As a
             result of these habitat changes, ecological endpoints (terres-
             trial and aquatic biota indicators) are estimated to have been
             15 to 90% higher historically than today, depending on the
             specific endpoint (Figure 2).
             Figure 1. Trajectories of
             landscape change in the
             Willamette River Basin, from
             pre-EuroAmerican settlement,
             to ca. 1990, to three alternative
             futures for 2050.
Circa 1990
             Even with a near doubling of the human population by 2050,
             more landscape change, and thus more ecological effects, are
             estimated to have occurred from 1850 to 1990 than stake-
             holders considered plausible from 1990 to 2050, regardless
             of the future scenario (Figure 2). In all three futures, most
             landscape changes reflected a shifting of past human uses to
             new uses, rather than a substantial expansion of human use
             into relatively unimpacted, natural ecosystems. For
             example, future urban and rural development was projected
             to occur predominately on lands now used for agriculture.
             Not surprisingly, our results indicate that the difference
             between agriculture and development, in terms of effects on
             terrestrial and aquatic biota, is much smaller than the  differ-
             ence between natural systems and either agriculture or
             development. Even in Development 2050, substantial
             portions of the landscape, particularly in the uplands,
             retained their natural vegetation cover and some level of
             environmental protection. The stakeholder advisory group,

Figure 2. Percent change in selected indica-
tors of natural resource condition in the
Willamette River Basin, in the three futures
and pre-EuroAmerican settlement scenarios,
relative to ca.  1990. Vegetation indicators are
the estimated  area of conifer forest > 80 years
old and % of 120-meter wide riparian buffer
along all  streams in the Valley Ecoregion with
forest vegetation. Indicator for native terrestrial
wildlife habitat is % of all 256 species
projected to gain habitat minus % projected to
lose  habitat. Indicator of terrestrial wildlife
abundance is  % of 17 species modeled
projected to increase more than 10% in
abundance minus % projected to decline >
10%. Stream condition indicators are %
change in median cutthroat trout habitat suita-
bility index (HSI) for all 2nd to 4th order
streams  in the Basin and % change in  median
fish Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) and Ephemer-
optera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera (EPT)
richness  in 2nd to 4th order streams with water-
sheds predominately in the Valley Ecoregion.
Willamette River indicator is % change in
median fish richness.
which oversaw design of the future scenarios, did not
consider more drastic landscape alterations plausible given
Oregon's history of resource protection, social behaviors,
and land ownership patterns.
There were, however, differences in ecological endpoints
among future scenarios and there were important local varia-
tions within each future. Because Oregon has several conser-
vation-oriented policies in place, landscape changes and
projected environmental effects for Plan Trend 2050 were
surprisingly small (most 10% change relative to 1990). The
one exception was a projected 57% increase in surface
waters consumed for irrigation, municipal, industrial, and
other human uses. As a result, the length of streams expected
to go  dry in a moderately dry summer doubled, but still
represented <10% of the total Basin stream length.
Estimated effects of the Development 2050 scenario
included loss of 24% of prime farmland, and 39% more
wildlife species lost habitat than gained habitat relative to
the 1990 landscape. Projected effects  on aquatic biota were
less severe, primarily because many of the land use changes
involved conversion of agricultural lands into urban/rural
development, both of which adversely impact streams.
Changes in water consumption were similar to those
projected for Plan Trend 2050.
In response to the conservation measures incorporated in
Conservation 2050, most endpoints (both terrestrial and
aquatic) recovered 20 to 70% of the losses sustained since
EuroAmerican settlement. Although 15%  of 1990 prime
farmland was lost, cropland was converted mostly to natural
vegetation, rather than to urban and rural development as in
Development 2050. The extent of older conifer forest
increased by 17% relative to  1990, yet was still less than half
of what occurred prior to EuroAmerican settlement. Water


o Ar.
* -o


cn -




Natural Resource Indicaf
1 1 Conifer >80 years

1 1 Native Terrestrial Wildlife
CH Terrestrial Wildlife Abunc
1 1 Cutthroat Trout HSI
1 1 Fish IBI - Lowlands
CH EPT Richness - Lowlanc
I 	 | Fish Richness - Main Ri





1 - j:3

HP -

Historical Conservation Plan Trend Develc


ca. 1850 2050 2050 2050
conservation measures had a moderating effect, but were not
sufficient to reverse the trend of increasing water consump-
tiontion for human use observed in all three futures (40-60%
increase relative to 1990). Major changes in Oregon's water
rights laws would likely be needed to substantially reduce
water withdrawals, but such changes were not considered
plausible by stakeholders.
Results from these analyses have been actively discussed by
stakeholder groups charged with developing a vision for the
Basin's future and basin-wide restoration strategy. For
example, Plan Trend 2050 generated a heated debate about
the reasonableness of assuming that existing policies would
be implemented exactly as written if no further policy
actions were taken. The restoration opportunities map,
created as an interim step toward Conservation 2050, served
as a centerpiece of the restoration strategy proposed by the
Willamette Restoration Initiative, a stakeholder group estab-
lished by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. Although we
have no direct measure of our influence on stakeholder
decisions, there is substantial evidence that people listened
and, in some cases, changed their way of doing business.
  For more information, contact:
  Joan P. Baker
  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  200 SW 35th Street
  Corvallis, Oregon 97333
  David Hulse
  University of Oregon
  Stan Gregory
  Oregon State University
A more complete description of the
project can be found in:
Willamette River Basin Planning
Atlas: Trajectories of Environmental
and Ecological Change (D. Hulse,
S. Gregory, and J. Baker, editors),
published by Oregon State Universi-
ty Press in 2002 (1-800-426-3797).
Selected data from the project can
be downloaded from