For the first time in a century, a wild steelhead was spotted upstream from the location of the now deconstructed Elwha Dam. Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to convince many people, that this was a possibility. Today, it is a reality. It illuminates a very important concept in conservation. Salmonids are resilient creatures. Give them clean water and a chance to spawn and they will do just that.
Fisheries biologists have been capturing, tagging and relocating wild fish along the Elwha this spring. The belief is, that if they relocate some of the fish to the upper river, other steelhead will follow. In June, biologists located a thirty-five inch male swimming in the upper reaches. The fish had not been tagged and was much bigger than any fish they had relocated. This proved that this particular steelhead had followed the scent of spawning females upriver, just as he would have a century ago.
I was excited to see the trailer for Felt Soul Media’s upcoming documentary, DamNation last week. I was even more pleased to see, that multiple view points are being presented in the film. Agricultural and economic ramifications are always a key factor in the decision to remove a dam or series of impoundments. It’s important to understand that dam deconstruction isn’t always a necessary or plausible alternative, although I would argue that habitat rehabilitation is.
Dams on the Klamath River in California are scheduled for deconstruction in the next decade, but setbacks have already been a factor. Success on the Elwha River and public interest generated by conservationists, tribal nations and groups like Felt Soul Media, should help propel California toward a future where free-flowing streams and self propagating Salmonids are the norm, not the exception.
To read the entire article in the Seattle Times, go to http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/fieldnotes/2018609640_steelhead_spawning_in_the_elwha.html