Sunday, November 24, 2013

Elwha Exhibit Opens at the Burke Museum



For the next three and a half months the Burke Museum will be hosting an exhibit celebrating and documenting the removal of the two dams on the Elwha River. The vast majority of the habitat on the Elwha is protected within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park and for over 100 years Elwha and Glines Canyon dam have obstructed salmon passage into all but the lower few miles of river. Removal of Elwha dam was completed in 2012 and Glines Canyon dam will be gone early next year. While the recovery process will take decades, already salmon and steelhead are using the 8 miles of mainstem as well as two major tributaries (the Little River and Indian Creek) made accessible by the removal of Elwha Dam and recovery should accelerate dramatically when fish are able to freely access the entirety of the basin.

While these are major victories, concerns remain about the role hatcheries are going to play in the recovery and the lack of a biologically defensible plan for ending hatchery programs meant to bridge wild populations through the stressful dam removal period.

Despite the shortsighted dependence on hatchery programs in the Elwha basin, wild fish will recover given the opportunity. However, media outlets reports linking "record" Chinook returns in the Elwha to dam removal are misleading and reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the Chinook life-cycle. Adult Chinook returning this fall will have mostly spent 3 summers in the ocean meaning they would not have benefited from the Elwha restoration. Indeed, this years excellent returns of Chinook are consistent with a coast wide trend of strong chinook returns (the Columbia is also seeing record runs of fall Chinook.). Regardless, with Glines Canyon dam gone this year it's a safe bet that with every passing generation of fish in the Elwha we will see a new "record" return, at least for the next 30 to 40 years.

More info on the Burke Museum exhibit:

http://www.burkemuseum.org/elwha

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