The presence of salmon returning to the Elwha river has had an amazing effect on a variety of marine life in the area!
The Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River in northwestern Washing State was disassembled during the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. The monumental project was initiated in 2011 with the goal of removing the dam and restoring the natural river system back to the fish and wildlife that used the river for thousands of years prior to the dams construction.
Marine biologist, Anne Shaffer has been working on the Elwha river system since the 1990’s and has focused most of her efforts on what is referred to as the “nearshore environment” This area is said to include deltas and estuary systems near the mouths of rivers as well as seagrass beds. Her testimony of the areas new found revival is simply, jaw dropping!
Her findings clearly state that salmon are now beginning to use the river system again after almost 100 years of being exiled from their natural habitat. Amazingly, in addition to the salmon, other marine life has been making a profound comeback due to the mere presence of the salmon in the river.
Shaffer states that they found new species coming to the area within weeks of the dam removal. According to her findings the number of young Chinook salmon are on the rise. Other native fish like coho salmon, chum salmon, bull trout, and steelhead have all seen a significant spike in numbers. Amazingly, for the first time in many years, a small fish known as an eulachon has once again been seen in abundance in the river.
Apart from the obvious benefits to the fish populations other areas of marine life have seen improvement as well. Crabs, clams, and especially birds have all been thriving due to the new found sediment flowing out the mouth of the river. This has helped provide much needed nesting habitat for shore birds and gulls living in the area.
These ripple effects that have take place through this ecosystem due to the dams removal and the return of the free swimming salmon is very similar to the ripple effects that were seen after the protection and revival of the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas. It is very important to understand that each animal in an ecosystem plays a specific role. If even one is removed or severely threatened then it can have a drastic impact on that particular area.
To learn more about the movement behind damn removals like the Glines Canyon Dam and how you can be there to help, be sure to view this compelling documentary, Damnation.