Chinook salmon returning to dam-less Elwha River [CORRECTED]

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

Put this on your top 10 list

Olympic National Park is on Fodor's list of top 10 national parks to visit this fall.

“Fall colors are scarce at Olympic National Park, with only occasional splashes from maple trees among the evergreen trees,” the well-known travel website said.

“But there's an even bigger draw in autumn — salmon spawning season, when you can watch coho salmon leap up the Quillayute and Sol Duc rivers.”

It recommends salmon viewers head to the Salmon Cascades in the Sol Duc River in October or taking the Hoh Visitor Center nature trail leading to a small tributary of the Hoh River in November.

Also on the list were Mount Rainier National Park, Acadia National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yosemite National Park.

You can find out what Fodor's had to say about each park at fodors.com.
Corrects opening day of Dungeness River fishing.


OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — The 2013 fall chinook spawning season was one of the strongest since 1992, and the king salmon are moving into more new habitat in the Elwha River, according to fish biologists.

“It is truly exciting to see the chinook finding their way into clear water tributaries and reaching the base of Glines Canyon Dam. This is what we have always known was coming,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said during the run, which ended recently.

On Sept. 17, a team of biologists from the Olympic National Park, Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, U.S. Geological Survey, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA Fisheries surveyed more than 13 miles of the Elwha River and major tributaries.

They counted all the living and dead adult chinook and mapped the redds left behind by the spawning fish.

Biologists walked and snorkeled the river from just below what remains of Glines Canyon Dam to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as the lower portions of three of the river's tributaries: Indian Creek, Hughes Creek and Little River, said Rainey McKenna, park spokeswoman, early last week.

During the one-day survey, the biologists counted 1,741 adult chinook and mapped 763 redds between the remnant of Glines Canyon Dam and the river mouth.

Visual counts from the survey, added to the 1,797 adult chinook collected by Fish and Wildlife to meet stock preservation goals, brought the total number of observed adult chinook in the Elwha River to 3,528, McKenna said.

Since 1986, the average annual run size for Elwha chinook has been 2,777 adults.

Sequim-based documentary filmmaker John Gussman filmed many of the fish returning in September, and has released videos of the big fish swimming upstream in the Elwha and several tributaries.

The short film, titled “Going Home,” can be seen at www.vimeo.com/75830580.

Gussman produced the film “Return of the River,” documenting the rise and fall of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, and the return of the salmon to middle reaches of the Elwha River.

“Return of the River” is available for viewing at www.elwhafilm.com.

Out of the total number counted in 2013, approximately seventy-five percent — 1,287 of the adult chinook and 592 of the redds — were observed upstream of the former Elwha Dam site, according to the fish count.

The total count included adult chinook and redds observed in Indian Creek and Little River, which were recolonized by the salmon in 2012.

Biologists also found redds and salmon in Hughes Creek, which did not have any last year, McKenna said.

With the return of the rain, sediment flows have returned, turning the late summer's clear water brown with particulates from the former lakes Mills and Aldwell.

The resumption of the demolition of Glines Canyon Dam is expected to loosen additional sediment.

“We are grateful for our partnerships with the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that are providing human created refuges in their hatchery facilities. With hatcheries providing a refuge during peak sediment flows, we can preserve native fish populations during this critical phase of the restoration process,” Creachbaum said.

The Elwha River was historically one of the most productive salmon streams in the Pacific Northwest, home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

Once dam removal is complete, fish biologists believe the Elwha River salmon and steelhead populations could grow to nearly 400,000 returning adult salmon per year.

Fishing is not permitted in the Elwha River during the $325 million restoration project that includes the demolition of two dams.

The Dungeness River opens to fishing Tuesday (Oct. 8), with a limit of four coho per angler. The Sol Duc, Quillayute and Bogachiel rivers also can be fished.

Elwha dam removal progress can be monitored by webcam at www.video-monitoring.com/construction/olympic/js.htm

The Olympic National Park website's dam removal blog is not available at this time due to the federal shutdown.

________

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 07. 2013 9:47AM
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