Restoration Evaluation Program

Text:Legacy Fund Restoration Evaluation. Photos of three restoration projects and a state of Minnesota icon.

When Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 they did so with high expectations. As projects have moved forward throughout the state, so too have efforts to ensure that the projects are meeting those expectations. Every year we work with project managers and visit restorations around the state. Highlights from the projects and lessons learned are communicated back to the restoration community to improve the quality of Legacy Fund restorations in Minnesota.

Text:Legacy Fund Restoration Evaluation Report Cover

Recommendations to improve future restorations

The Restoration Evaluation Program evaluates a diverse set of restoration projects every year. Based on review of these projects a panel of restoration experts identifies common opportunities for improvement and provides recommendations for improving future restorations.


Documentation is critical for planning, tracking, and achieving successful restorations

Documentation is an essential component through all stages of a restoration project. Well documented projects have these attributes and benefits:

  • Clear project goals linked directly to desired outcomes provide managers and stakeholders with consistent assumptions.
  • Easily observable, quantifiable measures of success allow for the effective tracking of progress towards desired outcomes and directing future actions.
  • Facilitate improved communication of lessons learned to benefit future projects.
  • Provide a basis to evaluate outcomes and determine if projects are strategic conservation investments.

A man in a field writing notes on a paper

While many Legacy Fund restoration projects have included thorough documentation, the Restoration Evaluation Panel have noted gaps in achieving a consistent level of documentation across all funded projects. Consistent documentation of essential planning and implementation data is a prerequisite of effective projects. Most commonly, project plans have been deficient in providing clear goals and quantifiable measures of success. Implemented actions are often well documented but not explicitly linked to the overall goal(s) of the funded project.

A project documentation template was designed for project managers to support improved documentation for Legacy Fund restoration projects. Project managers are encouraged to use this template to ensure complete and thorough documentation and to promote consistency across projects. Download the Restoration and Management Plan Template. An example template with sample project data is provided for reference.

Role of project managers in improving documentation:
  • Consistently document restoration project data in a simple accessible format.
  • Designate one project partner to permanently store project data.
  • Collect and retain plant material information to understand how plant origin affects restoration outcomes to inform future work.
  • Ensure that details of implements actions are recorded and coupled with the initial plan.
Role of funding organizations:
  • Provide targeted training and grant guidance for project managers.
  • Develop checklist of key project data to be archived by project partners.
Project Teams

More comprehensive project teams should be used to improve ecological outcomes

This recommendation is primarily directed towards projects of a scale, scope and complexity that warrant a multidisciplinary team.

Projects such as stream restorations where multiple habitats and vegetation communities are being managed benefit from more robust teams with diverse professional experience in fields like geomorphology, hydrology, plant and animal ecology, construction site management, and engineering. Using a more multidisciplinary planning process, and bringing more sets of expertise to the table, will ideally minimize instances of nonnative seed use, improve stream channel design, expand limited project goals, and other issues that may arise. Project components sometimes require modification during instillation. It is important that project partners identify contingencies and engage appropriate expertise from a project team during planning and when modifications are needed.

A group of men standing next to a creek.

During review of past projects, the panel noted instances where the stated project goals were too narrow, limiting potential opportunities for restoring ecological functions. Some projects did not adequately address critical ecological components in the design and/or installation. Ensuring that project teams include ecologists or agency technical experts, for example, should address some of these concerns. The panel believes that this recommendation will support higher quality restorations resulting in increased multiple benefits by engaging project partners and accelerating “learning in practice,” ultimately supporting project managers in planning and implementing projects with broader ecological goals, specifications, and outcomes.

Role of project managers in improving project teams

  • Use multidisciplinary project teams appropriate to project scale/complexity.
  • Engage State agency, local government units and technical experts early in the planning phase.

Role of funding organizations

  • Include project team requirements in RFP’s.
  • Continue to make staff available for consultations.

Role of state agencies

  • Consult with project managers regarding technical specifications.
Restoration Training

Continued development and implementation of training is essential to promote science-based practices

A large group of about 20 men and weomen man standing on a prairie

The Restoration Evaluation Program was developed with the ultimate goal of improving restorations throughout the state. The Panel has recommended that statewide efforts to disseminate restoration best practices be continued and bolstered to meet the needs of restoration practitioners. Compiling and disseminating current science-based restoration practices and showcasing exemplar challenges and successes from the field will be critical to improving practice. Effective formal trainings currently exist in Minnesota, including:

  • Ecological Restoration Certificate. Five online training components to support dissemination and application of restoration best practices are available through the Ecological Restoration Training Cooperative coordinated by the University of Minnesota in partnership with MN DNR, BWSR and MN Department of Transportation. This program is designed to support foundational restoration skills and knowledge for a wide array of practitioners including professional staff, technicians and community members by sharing the best available knowledge from research and practice.
  • BWSR Academy. Annual state of the art training in technical and operational restoration practices. Training provides usable technical skills, to primarily local government staff, for implementing restoration projects and administering programs funded by BWSR grant programs.
Other resources for project managers

The Restoration Evaluation Program aims to continue and bolster statewide efforts to disseminate restoration best practices to meet the needs of restoration practitioners.

Design Criteria for Lakeshore Projects

Utilize minimum design criteria to mimic shoreline’s natural structure and vegetation

The Panel recommends that project managers establish consistent minimum design criteria as guidance for lakeshore projects. Lakeshore projects that were determined to have achieved greater ecological benefits shared the following attributes:

  • Designed at a scale to provide significant water quality and habitat benefits based on current science.
  • Sited based on a clear need (gully erosion, bank erosion) and/or strategically positioned in the landscape (to intercept an appreciable area of upland runoff with a disturbed landcover type, several times larger than the property or project site).

A lakeshore with native plant support built into the ground

There are existing local government and State programs that have effectively used minimum design criteria and achieved successful outcomes and abundant participation. Implementation of minimum criteria, such as a native vegetation buffer of at least 75% of the shoreline length and at least 25 feet landward of the Ordinary High Water Level, provide a more appropriate example for promoting social adoption of natural shoreline practices and a greater level of support for achieving larger restoration goals. Bioengineering practices that rely primarily on vegetation and natural materials for shoreline stabilization should also be considered first priority techniques whenever practicable. Design criteria should be established by project managers to accommodate specific project types, such as upland runoff buffer or shoreline habitat restorations. Adaptability to specific conditions and constraints is vital to ensuring effective guidance.

Role of project managers

Establish minimum design criteria based on programmatic goals and local conditions; integrate with existing direction for shoreline restoration from TMDL or local water plan.  

  • Utilize guidance from state agencies and area technical assistance staff to identify appropriate criteria.
  • Specify minimum design criteria in lakeshore BMP agreements (between LGU project managers and landowners)
  • Promote the value/technical need for established criteria
  • Utilize improved criteria when recruiting and screening potential projects
Planning for Stream Projects

Detailed project planning and consistent implementation of will produce the best outcomes in stream restoration

The panel recommends that project managers complete consistent project planning for all stream projects. This information is particularly valuable for stream and river restorations due to the complexity, cost, and risks associated. This consistent planning process should include:

  • Identifying problems (e.g. stressors or impairments)
  • Articulating specific project goals
  • Designing strategies to address identified problems and specific goals based on a stream assessment
  • Budgeting funds adequate to achieve goals
  • Documenting project partner capacity to manage and execute the work

3 men standing next to a creek.

The level of assessment and planning detail should be proportional to the scope, scale, and complexity of the restoration and be completed before work begins on the ground. Preparation and thoughtful application of this information will enable project managers to make informed decisions throughout the project and improve the capacity to achieve desired outcomes. This level of project planning prior to projects hitting the ground will facilitate more consistent implementation of high quality stream restorations in the State.

Roles of project managers

  • Engage State agencies, local government units and other technical experts early in, and throughout, the project planning phase
  • Secure financial, staff and/or contract resources to complete appropriate project planning

Role of state agencies:

  • Identify and promote best practices in consistent project planning detail
The Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment continues to fund stream restorations throughout the state. These projects are of particular interest because of the evolving nature of stream restoration science, the range of goals addressed in the work, and the high stakes surrounding problems with implementation. In 2019, the Legacy Fund Restoration Evaluation program focused on stream projects to provide the panel an opportunity to evaluate stream restoration practice in the state more holistically and to make more specific recommendations on improving stream restoration and enhancement projects. An outcome of the that report was a new recommendation on improved vegetation for stream projects.
Vegetation for Stream Projects

Well established vegetation is critical for the long-term success of stream projects

Well established vegetation is critical for the long-term success of stream projects. While cover crops can provide temporary stabilization, establishing native vegetation takes planning and diligent maintenance especially in dynamic stream systems that are subject to frequent flooding. Identifying project partners responsible for planning, installing, monitoring, and maintaining vegetation will increase the likelihood project benefits will continue over time.

Roles of project partners

A creek winding through the prairie.

  • Establish and apply performance standards for vegetation
  • Consistently apply BWSR’s Native Vegetation Establishment and Enhancement
  • Guidelines focusing on diverse native vegetation
  • Incorporate climate resiliency into vegetation planning


Contact us for more information

Legacy Amendment logo State of Minnesota logo

Learn more about our Legacy funding:

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

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