by Craig Weatherby
Since the end of the last Ice Age, people along the Northwest coast of North America have relied on and even worshipped salmon.
The term Salmon Nation captures the spirit that connects people who care deeply about wild salmon.
The region's unique ecosystems depend on the nutrients released when millions of salmon return to spawn and die in their birth rivers.
The bountiful gifts brought by these majestic creatures inspire those who fight to see rivers restored and fishing livelihoods revived.
Though imperiled across much of their range salmon populations can rebound when people put sustainability first. (See the “Wild Salmon Ecology” and “Mining & Seafood Sustainability” sections of our news archive.)
Last month, men and machines began tearing down two salmon-stifling dams on the Elwha River in Washington's wild, iconic Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle.
You can view two dramatic dam-removal videos posted on the Sightline Daily blog, which gathers environmental, social, and economic news affecting the Northwest.
Why the Elwha river dams went up … and are coming down
The dams were built during the early years of the 20th century and blocked all fish passage above them for the next 100 years. (See the map, below.)
Before 1911, the Elwha River – which arises in Olympic National Park and flows north to the Strait Juan de Fuca – supported ten separate “runs” of salmon and steelhead.
Elwha Dam was built on the Elwha River in 1911 and Glines Canyon Dam in 1925, limiting these fish to the lower five miles.
In 1986, the owners of the dams sought a federal license for Elwha – which was built before a license was required – and to relicense Glines Canyon Dam.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe intervened that same year and pushed for removal of both dams, with environmental groups joining the fight.
The notion of dam removal seemed far-fetched at the time … even though the power produced by the dams is easily replaced by the Bonneville power grid.
The dams were built by Canadian entrepreneur Thomas Aldwell, starting in 1910. Together, they powered the many wood mills that grew the local economy.
As Aldwell's granddaughter Noreen Frink told The Seattle Times, she's proud of her grandfather's achievement, but also believes the dams' time has come and gone.
As she said, “I would like to see the dams come down and the fish come up.” (Mapes LV 2011)
And now they are!
Mapes LV. Honoring first salmon caught below Elwha dam - for the last time. The Seattle Times. August 19, 2011. Accessed at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/mobile/?type=story&id=2015956009
Mapes LV. Dams' removal: a long goodbye for powerhouses that transformed a region. The Seattle Times. September 17, 2011. Accessed at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016083793_elwhadams18m