Tracking Elwha Nearshore Restoration, April 2021
Update from Anne Shaffer, PhD of the Coastal Watershed Institute on tracking Elwha nearshore ecosystem restoration post-dam removal, March and April 20, 2021. All photos (c) Coastal Watershed Institute.
A foggy, calm morning along the Elwha nearshore today. The west side channel is a full 6 degrees warmer than the main river channel now, with no sign of the beaver to keep the cooling river/side channel connection open. The 13 degree Celsius temperature of the west side channel signals it’s time to start our early (cool hour) sample days to decrease fish stress.
Juvenile coho, Chinook, steelhead, and unided trout—but again no chum—in Elwha nearshore today. In contrast, the wood placement site at the mouth of Salt Creek is again teeming with baby 40 mm-ish chum this month, as are the adjacent shallow fringing Egregia sp. kelp beds along the eastern shore of Crescent Bay. Historically (before the dams were installed) chum were the second most abundant salmon in the Elwha system and a literal backbone of the watershed. In the early years during and after Elwha dam removals, we would see a few of the out-migrating fry beginning in January but overall chum abundance was a mere shadow of compared to before the dams. We waited, and hoped chum numbers would improve. Now, as we round into the decade after dam removals started we continue to wait to see them. Combined, the presence of chum fry in other (adjacent) watersheds and continued decline to now absence this year in the Elwha—a decade after dam removals—indicates that something other than dams continue to stifle chum recovery in the Elwha.
The Elwha River was running high and fast today, which makes holding the set an act of singular determination (illustrated well by the ‘they don’t call ‘em tractor boots for nothin’ track marks). Goodwill and fast work of this great team (and Patagonia field gear contributions) are every day appreciated as we quietly celebrate, through earnest work, documenting the continued nearshore ecosystem restoration following a decade of dam removals.
Dr. Shaffer is the Executive Director and Lead Scientist of the Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI), a small, place-based environmental non-profit formed in 1996 that is dedicated to understanding, protecting, and restoring coastal ecosystems thru community-led scientific partnerships. Shaffer and her team conduct world-class ecosystem science and restoration with very modest resources and from a remote base of operations.
Dr. Shaffer and the talented team she leads at CWI are now informing dam removals planning and actions worldwide. Dr. Shaffer has authored over twenty scientific publications on nearshore ecology and dam removal science and regularly presents her scientific work internationally. Her work is featured in Hakai Magazine, National Geographic, New Yorker Magazine, Al Jazeera, PBS (Earth works), and National Public Radio. Dr. Shaffer and her team have received conservation science awards from the Seattle Aquarium, American Fisheries Society, and Society of Ecological Restoration for work on coastal ecosystem science, conservation, and restoration, including the Elwha.
Dr. Shaffer was born and raised in a large family and a small town of eastern Washington struggling to overcome the ravages of WWII. The solitude of wild intact remote coastal shorelines of northwest Washington provided rare moments of peace and healing and instilled a fierce dedication to conserving and restoring wild places. After their first round of graduate school Shaffer and her husband Dave Parks moved to the Olympic Peninsula where they raised two children. Dr. Shaffer then returned to school and earned a PhD in Marine Science from the University of Victoria in 2017. She and her family continue to thrive in their dedication to fight for what matters. Their future focus is to instill a passion in the next generation to do the same.
More information on Dr. Shaffer and her work with the Coastal Watershed Institute can be found at www.coastalwatershedinstitute.org.