The Elwha River, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, flows out of Olympic National Park. It was dammed in the early part of the last century in violation of an 1890 law which required fish passage facilities on dams “wherever food fish are wont to ascend”. The logging companies were so powerful that the fisheries commissioner allowed them to get by with a hatchery, that never worked, instead of the required passage facilities. The dams blocked miles and miles of premium salmon and steelhead spawning grounds in Olympic National Park which produced enormous Chinook salmon that were reported to have reached 100 pounds and are thought to have been up to 12 years old.

For perspective, chinook salmon that spawn in central Idaho generally range from 3 (jacks) to 5 years old with the bulk of them being 4 years old. There have been reports of 6-year old fish with PIT tags crossing over the dams but, in the 8 years that I worked with them, I never saw one. It’s a big “if” but some think that the genetics which produced such big fish in the Elwha could possibly still exist and that they may express themselves in response to the barrier posed by a section of steep, fast water on the river above the dams. The barrier selected for only those fish able to navigate it and those were the fish of the greatest size. It may take several generations for traits like this to express themselves if they still exist.

The process of removing the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam begins this month.

Elwha River restoration project set to begin in Washington.
by Lynn Herrmann – Digital Journal

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Buffalo Field Campaign's Executive Director, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He was formerly the Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

2 Responses to Elwha River restoration project set to begin in Washington

  1. avatar jdubya says:

    “”It’s a big “if” but some think that the genetics which produced such big fish in the Elwha could possibly still exist and that they may express themselves in response to the barrier posed by a section of steep, fast water on the river above the dams. “”

    It may be the equivalent of rainbow/steelhead….the same genes just waiting for the opportunity to strut their stuff. That said, I doubt ocean conditions (re; fishing pressure) would allow the re-creation of such monsters. We’ll see…it will be fun to watch the re-colonization of that river!

    • avatar SEAK Mossback says:

      This week I saw a presentation on restoration of sockeye in the Elwha — they are planning to let it occur naturally from the few that return whether local or stray riverine or lacustrine sockeye or anadromous smolts from the kokanee population that has continued to do well in the lake above the dams and sedimentation. However, the presenter did include a photo of a 70 lb. male chinook that recently entered the system. There is hope!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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