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Last Barrier to Elwha Fish Blown Away

They say good things come to those who wait—and for fish on the Elwha River, that’s definitely true. Last week, explosives destroyed the last piece of the once 210-foot tall Glines Canyon Dam, returning the river to its wild state. The blast was part of a three-year effort to remove the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, which had blocked fish from swimming upstream for more than a century.

Salmon now have access to pristine habitat within the Olympic National Park, free of the impacts from cities, factories, or agriculture. It is estimated that within 30 years, the river will produce 390,000 salmon and steelhead each year.

Shortly after the Elwha Dam was removed in 2011, wildlife began returning to their restored habitat. In 2012, wild steelhead were found swimming upstream of the former dam site. Sediment that had been trapped behind the dam flowed downstream, creating 70 acres of new habitat around the mouth of the river. This year, surf smelt—forage fish for chinook and other species— were found spawning on the newly-created river delta. Dungeness crab, otters, and bald eagles have also recently been seen upstream.

NOAA funded a series of restoration projects that helped prepare the river and surrounding floodplain for the dramatic changes anticipated when the dams were gone. We will continue to monitor the habitat conditions within the river and the response of salmon to the restoration efforts and dam removal.

Posted September 8, 2014