In the five years since the Elwha River’s fish-blocking dams were removed, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has been documenting where chinook salmon spawn in the watershed as they gain access to more spawning habitat.
The tribe’s habitat and fish biologists, with its state and federal partners, have been annually surveying the river in mid-September during the peak of the chinook spawning season. The survey area extends nearly 20 miles, from the river mouth to past Glines Canyon. Surveyors walk the river banks, counting redds (salmon egg nests) and live and spawned-out salmon.
Determining the number of redds in the river is a good indicator that adult salmon are using newly available spawning habitat, said Mike McHenry, the tribe’s habitat program manager.
“The increase in salmon redds speaks to the benefits of dam removal,” he said. “Salmon are finding spawning habitat between the two former dam sites that hadn’t been touched by salmon in a century, plus they are getting deeper into the watershed every year. They spawned in significant numbers above the former Glines Canyon Dam site for the first time in 2016, with 58 redds found.”
The most obvious trend between 2012-2016 was an increasing number of nests upstream from both former dam sites. Before dam removal, salmon only had access to the lower five miles of the river.
There also was an increasing number of redds in the mainstem, suggesting that habitat is improving and stabilizing in the mainstem, McHenry said.
While there were fewer returning adults in 2016 than in previous years, the distribution of redds through the survey area was the greatest.
“Even though there were fewer redds, they were spread out further throughout the river valley, suggesting that passage conditions for salmon were much improved in 2016 versus previous years,” McHenry said.