Next month, the last pillar of concrete from Glines Canyon Dam on Washington’s Elwha River will be blasted sky high, marking the final step in returning a handcuffed waterway to its free-flowing state.
As for the natural world, according to a giddier than usual scientific community, it knows exactly what to do:
So far salmon and steelhead are swimming and spawning miles above the no-more Elwha dam site. Native forests are rebounding, where they were once submersed in stagnant water. And the mountain of sediment formerly trapped above dams is creating miles of new habitat at the river mouth.
“It goes against my deepest notions of how fast ecosystem recovery can possibly happen,” said Christopher Tonra, a research fellow with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C., who is tracking the response of dippers, a native, aquatic songbird, to dam removal in the Elwha.
“We are all trained, as biologists, to think of things over the long run. I am not saying the Elwha is fully recovered. But it is so mind blowing to me, the numbers of fish, and seeing the birds respond immediately to the salmon being there. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”