Return of the Kings on the Elwha

Spawning king salmon have been sighted twice upriver from the former dam sites on
the newly free Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula.

photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

By their very nature, dam-removal projects require a certain amount of faith. Fisheries biologists can guess how fish stocks will react to freed sections of river, but no one really knows if the fish will come back—especially if they have been gone for almost a century. The recent destruction of two dams on Washington’s Elwha River is a case in point. But in this situation, it seems that, if biologists’ predictions were wrong, it’s that they underestimated the speed of recovery.

We reported last month that
steelhead were discovered
upstream from the dams well before they were expected, and now there’s other great news:

[L]ess than five months after the removal of the Elwha Dam, adult Chinook (king) salmon were observed in Olympic National Park.These are the first observed Elwha River salmon to naturally migrate into the park.When the Elwha Dam became operational in 1913, twenty-five years before the establishment of the park, over 70 miles of habitat were blocked to fish passage.

It is quite clear to all involved that the restoration of anadromous fishes in the Elwha system is underway.

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