Tuesday March 26, 2024


After decades of waiting for two dams to come down on the Elwha River on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, and another decade of monitoring salmon populations, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT) was finally able to open a small ceremonial and subsistence Coho salmon fishery this past October. As other salmon populations struggle to survive the impacts of climate change and human development in the Pacific Northwest, the story of the Elwha’s returning Coho salmon provides hope for other communities working to save their own fish.

The Elwha River is fed by several glaciers and perennial snowfields in the Olympic mountains and is home to salmon, lamprey, otters and elk that have sustained Indigenous peoples in the region since time immemorial.

In the early 1900s, hydroelectric power greatly expanded in the Pacific Northwest, where strong rivers could be turned into energy for emerging cities. The Elwha was no exception. In 1913, the Elwha Dam was completed five miles upstream from the mouth of the river, and the Glines Canyon Dam followed suit eight miles upstream in 1927. Together the dams powered the nearby city of Port Angeles, which quickly became a logging hotspot after the hydroelectricity produced was used to power a pulp mill.

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