Fish showing up in Elwha River tributaries

Less than a year since the Elwha River’s two fish-blocking dams started to come down, native salmon have made their way deep into the Elwha watershed for the first time in nearly a century.

After the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam was dismantled in March, an additional three miles of river habitat was re-opened for fish spawning, rearing and feeding. In June, a 35-inch long adult male wild steelhead was found spawning in Little River, a tributary to the Elwha.

“We were so excited and wanted to find more,” said Ray Moses, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s project biologist. “We had just finished transporting tagged steelhead upstream the previous week. We were looking for those fish but we knew this steelhead wasn’t part of that group. We also know it wasn’t part of the tribe’s steelhead broodstock program either.”

In August, biologists got another surprise when adult male chinook salmon showed up near the Glines Canyon dam and in Indian Creek. Moses thinks these fish made it this far before the biologists installed a fish weir in the lower river, which is used for counting fish returning to the river  and collecting brood stock for WDFW’s Chinook program.

“There is some pristine habitat in the park that the fish can use,” Moses said.

The Elwha Dam site is now nothing but a large hill with the river cutting through its east side. All remnants of the dam were removed by March, at a much faster rate than expected. Vegetation is growing in the empty basin of Lake Aldwell, which had been formed by the dam.

The formerly 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam has been deconstructed in a slower but steady pace, with only 90 feet left to demolish. Work was delayed in two-week increments during the summer so that fish making their way into the watershed would not be harmed by sediment coming down the river from the dam removal. The dam is expected to be completely gone by Summer 2013.