Washington State Restores Coho Salmon that Enhances Food Security for the Tribes
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe of Washington State hoped for the reintroduction of coho salmon to the Elwha River for over a century. The river, which was vital to their way of life, was obstructed by two dams in 1911, impeding salmon migration. These dams, however, were demolished in August 2014. Now, after waiting patiently, the tribe is celebrating a remarkable reunion with coho salmon, marking a historic moment.
A century-long dream
The dam removal on the Elwha River was a massive effort, widely regarded as the most extensive dam removal in history. Since then, the tribe, in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and Olympic National Park, has been granted the right to fish for subsistence and tribal use. This long-awaited change is extremely important to the community. “It means everything,” Vanessa Castle, the tribe’s natural resources technician, says, “to have that food security, to know that I can catch a fish to feed my family.”
A journey of heritage and hope
Coho salmon, with their gleaming greenish or blue backs, are making their way back to their birthplace in the Elwha River. These hardy fish start their lives in freshwater streams and rivers, move to the ocean, and then return to their birthplace to reproduce. The recent reintroduction of coho salmon to the river is evidence that the dams were successfully removed, allowing sediment and gravel to flow freely and creating a thriving environment for the fish.
The tribe’s revival of fishing is about more than just food; it’s also about reconnecting with their cultural history. A tribal member, Wendy Sampson, expresses her aspirations, saying, “It will be a great time to introduce our children to the river, and hopefully be able to revive some of those basic ceremonies around it.” This joyful occasion not only restored a critical food source but also reignited traditions and future hopes.
The Elwha River restoration project is still in its early phases, but it has inspired similar initiatives abroad, such as the upcoming removal of dams on North California’s Klamath River, which will become the largest dam removal project in history. The Elwha River restoration is significant, according to Matt Beirne, the tribe’s natural resources director: “I think the Elwha gives people hope for what might be possible.”
Witnessing the dam removal and the reintroduction of coho salmon is a memorable event for tribal member Mel Elofson. “Now I’m getting to witness it for my elders who were unable to see it,” Elofson says, emphasizing the astounding achievement’s intergenerational implications. It’s a story of optimism, resilience, and a poignant homecoming that will continue to inspire communities and environmental restoration efforts around the world.This article was originally published on October 17, 2023