Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bringing back the salmon

Before Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam blocked the river coho, pink, chum, sockeye, spring and summer/fall chinook salmon returned by the hundreds of thousands. Individual chinook sometimes weighed over 100 pounds. I've read that the salmon were so big that people could wear their skins as ceremonial robes.

Since the early 1900's the dams have prevented salmon from reaching roughly 70 miles of upstream habitat in the Elwha River and its tributaries. The dams have also inundated 684 acres of riverside habitat -- important for wildlife like deer and Roosevelt elk -- beneath the reservoirs of Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell.

Today, only about 4,000 salmon spawn in the five miles of available river below the dams. Other wildlife, like the bald eagle, black bear, bobcat, coyote, raccoon, weasel, mink and river otter are suffering from the lack of nutrient-rich salmon carcasses.

Removing the two dams on the Elwha will be about salmon, and much more than salmon -- it will be restoration of an ecosystem on a grand scale.