Hundreds turn out for Elwha River science talks at Peninsula College symposium; more today

PORT ANGELES — The Elwha River is attracting an abundance of creatures — in numbers greater than expected — to what is described in the event program as “one of those great turning points.”

The Elwha River Science Symposium — which began Thursday with the first of 32 presentations on sediment, salmon, sea otters, black bears, birds and estuary morphology — continues today in the Sciences Building at Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd.

Registration is still open.

A symposium badge, available at the information table in the Sciences Building, costs $35 and admits the holder to today’s presentations.

These include a talk by Elwha expert Dick Goin at 9:30 a.m. and the “Elwha and the Emerald Planet” keynote speech by Thomas E. Lovejoy, founder of the public television program “Nature,” at 12:30 p.m.

Jeff Duda of Seattle, the U.S. Geological Survey fisheries scientist organizing the symposium, figured on about 200 attendees.

But by early this week, that number had swelled to 325.

On Day 2, “we don’t want to turn anybody away,” Duda said.

He wants to put Elwha River science out to as many people as humanly possible.

“It’s getting really exciting,” Duda added.

“So many people have worked for so long.”

Today and through next week, dozens of research posters are on display in the Sciences Building’s first- and second-floor lobbies, and community members can come see them at no charge, Duda said.

The posters delve into all facets of the Elwha River Restoration. Removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams — the largest such operation in history, under way as of this week — is “a grand experiment we’ve never had the opportunity to do before,” said Paul Laustsen, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist from Menlo Park, Calif.

One poster, created by the nonprofit river-paddling promoter American Whitewater, highlights the recreational benefits anticipated once the dams are down.

As several other Pacific Northwest rivers have been freed in the past five years, new places to paddle have opened up, the poster notes.

A formerly dammed reservoir on the Clark Fork River in Montana became a community park with a trail connecting it to downtown Missoula.

“There are now paddling destinations on the Rogue,” the formerly dammed river in Oregon, while “paddlers and fish have access to a new section of the Sandy River,” also in Oregon, the poster says.

On the Elwha, “the same dams that block upstream fish passage also inundate significant sections of river on one of the region’s most spectacular whitewater runs,” according to the poster.

“Removal of dams will reconnect the backcountry paddling of the Elwha’s upper reaches, creating one continuous stretch of whitewater all the way to the ocean.”

While the American Whitewater researchers expressed this eagerness to kayak and raft, others at the symposium crowded into presentations such as “Chinook Status” and “Rainbow Trout Genetics.”

“Some sessions are standing-room-only,” said Laustsen. “It’s pretty cool.”

Laurie Ward, executive director of Washington’s National Park Fund, was among some 35 volunteers working at the event.

She was impressed by the energy level inside the Sciences Building.

The attendees “are so committed,” Ward said.

“They’ve been living it for so long; they’re really passionate” about the dams removal and all that will come after.

Thursday’s sessions were about presenting data about the Elwha River’s past and present; today’s discussions will explore “the bigger picture” of the ecosystem, Duda said.

There is much to monitor, he added, and much to hope for in terms of salmon recovery.

The Elwha’s salmon have long inspired scientists as well as poets.

Symposium participant Tim McNulty of Sequim, who is both, said earlier this week that “salmon embody hope, more than any other creature.”

Salmon — and myriad other animals — appear in the photography exhibits Nancy Elder and John McMillan have on display at the symposium.

Duda, anything but jaded, marveled at them while offering a prediction based on the body of river research being shared around him.

“The salmon will recolonize the Elwha. They’ve evolved to do that,” he said.

“I am just floored by the diversity around the mouth of the Elwha. I’m astounded by the beauty and diversity of life.”

Congress passed the Elwha River Restoration Act nearly two decades ago, and “amazingly, after all the years, all the meetings, all the plans and all the striving . . . this poignant moment” is here, the symposium program says.

“Elwha restoration is a giant landmark in our care for planet Earth.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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