$2 million to aid Elwha restoration
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Road closed signs mark the gate leading down to the Lower Elwha Dam on Friday southwest of Port Angeles. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has provided $2 million to the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe for habitat restoration on the banks of the Elwha River and on its floodplain on the reservation, the agency said Tuesday.

The money is no small drop in the bucket for habitat restoration, which is a part of the project to remove the two Elwha River dams -- Glines Canyon and Elwha

It has been underfunded, said Mike McHenry, tribal habitat biologist.

"It's huge. It's really huge. I'm still a little amazed," he said.

"We've been struggling to find a way to fund them."


814 proposals

Nationwide, 814 proposals for habitat restoration were submitted for the NOAA funding, provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Only 50 were approved. A total of $167 million was distributed.

The tribe will use the funding to create up to 20 logjams, remove two dikes and an outfall ditch, replace a small culvert with a bridge, replace non-native and noxious plants with native vegetation and construct fish weirs at the Elwha River mouth for monitoring salmon runs after the dams are removed.

Those restoration projects encompass 82 acres of habitat.

All of the work will occur on the tribe's reservation west of Port Angeles, and four new jobs will be created.

The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act of 1992 mandates the removal of the two dams, which is scheduled to begin in 2011, to restore salmon habitat.

Some $308 million in federal money will be used to complete the task.

But that funding provides little for habitat restoration, McHenry said.

The National Park Service, which is overseeing the removal of the dams, will construct a greenhouse this summer to grow native plants for the purpose of restoring the vegetation in the reservoirs after the dams are removed.

But McHenry said there isn't enough funding to properly restore the habitat in the reservoirs, and the tribe will seek further grant funding, if available, to expand that restoration effort.

"This is a good beginning," he said, referring to the NOAA grant.

Latrisha Suggs, tribal assistant director for Elwha River restoration, said the NOAA funding will be put to use almost immediately.

First, the tribe will remove the two dikes and fill in an old outfall ditch for its fish hatchery this summer.

The dikes, long abandoned, are about a mile upstream from the hatchery, at 51 Hatchery Road. They will be removed by September, Suggs said, which does not place any property at risk of flooding.

"It helps restore the floodplain and allows the river to move more freely," she said.

The current hatchery will become obsolete because of rising river levels after the dams are removed and will be replaced by a new hatchery that will take about 16 months to complete.

Construction, funded by the park service, is expected to begin by the end of summer.

Logjams

Suggs said the first of the logjams will be placed this fall.

McHenry said the tribe has already created 29 logjams on the river since 1999.

The logjams provide for a place for spawning salmon to rest and hide from predators, he said, and they attract insects the fish eat and help trap and sort sediment.

"It's great habitat for fish," Suggs said.

She said the removal of the dams won't destroy the logjams, which will be designed by Entrix Inc.

Beginning Oct. 1, Suggs said the tribe will begin replacing the non-native and noxious plants from the floodplain.

Suggs said they will be replaced by a diverse range of native plants.

"When you're able to have a good diversity of plant life, then you have diverse species that live within that forest," she said, "and more insects that the salmon can feed off of."

The fish weirs will be constructed in March 2010.

"It will allow us to start documenting how adults respond" to the removal of the dams, McHenry said.

"It will be used as a gauge."

Suggs said the tribe will continue to expand its habitat restoration program whenever grants can be attained.

"If we see that there is a need and we can fill that need, then we will go after funds," she said.

"We are still active participants to make sure that dam removal is a success. That's our job in this office."

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Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 30. 2009 9:37PM
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