Chinook salmon. Photo by: USGS.
In March of this year the Elwha Dam, which had stood for 99 years, was demolished in the U.S. state of Washington. Five months later, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) made their way down the river to long-blocked off habitat and entered Olympic National Park.
“As I saw the fish roll, my heart jumped!” said Phil Kennedy, Lead Fisheries Technician for Olympic, in a press release.
Park officials have been conducting weekly checks all summer, waiting for the Chinook salmon to make their return.
The Elwha Dam, which began running in 1913, was built without incorporating fish ladders, which would have let the salmon pass. In 1992 the U.S. government acquired the dam with the intent of demolishing it to allow salmon to naturally return to the Elwha River. However, the fish can only travel so far, as 13 miles down the river the salmon encounter another hydroelectric project, the Gilnes Canyon Dam. The government has purchased this dam as well and plans to demolish it, allowing the salmon to run the full river.
Prized for their meat, Chinook salmon were once plentiful in the American Northwest, but dam building, development, and widespread habitat loss has taken a massive toll on the species.
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