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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.

Keep going.

Elwha nearshore, March 2021

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