PAT NEAL: Eating crow about Elwha salmon

It was a regrettable lapse in my search for truth that allowed me to question the salmon’s ability to swim up the Elwha once the dams were taken out.

WHEN I’M WRONG, I’m wrong, and I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

I always thought the $325 million Elwha Dam removal project was a complete waste of money that cost us two beautiful lakes, two Elwha campgrounds and Olympic Hot Springs Road, and endangered Port Angeles’ water supply.

I mistakenly believed and it was ill-advised to consider Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills as some of the best trout fishing waters in America that would have been capable of raising millions of salmon a year for our local fisheries.

It was silly to think that if you could raise a million Atlantic salmon in Port Angeles Harbor, you could use the Elwha to raise a few million Pacific salmon and make Port Angeles the salmon fishing capital of Washington.

I was uninformed to think that our fisheries managers should try to rebuild the salmon runs in our rivers by employing successful techniques that have been demonstrated by the tribes and our friends just across the border in Canada.

You’ve heard of Canada.

That’s where everyone goes fishing these days.

There is just something mysteriously magical about that imaginary line down the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca that seems to make the fishing better over there.

We can only hope someone gets a grant to study the problem.

It was another cheap shot on my part to compare the Elwha with her sister rivers the Queets and the Hoh rivers.

These rivers have never been dammed.

The Queets and the Hoh are largely protected inside Olympic National Park as a United Nations UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, and yet these rivers contain threatened or endangered species of fish.

It was superfluous to ask if habitat loss threatens or endangers fish populations.

Why are there threatened and endangered fish in pristine habitats?

Is there something else affecting our fish populations that no amount of habitat restoration can restore?

Never mind.

None of this matters.

The money had to be spent on dam removal before the government went broke.

It was a regrettable lapse in my search for truth that allowed me to question the salmon’s ability to swim up the Elwha once the dams were taken out.

Would the salmon boldly go where no salmon has been for a hundred years?

I must admit the mistaken notion that the fish could not make it through the canyons choked with dam destruction debris.

I was wrong to think the canyons would get so clogged up with landslides so tight, not even a bull trout could squeeze through, just like we saw in the old days.

Who did I think I was, a biologist or something?

No, I’m just an old-timer who has lived here all my life, so my observations are anecdotal.

The fact is salmon are making it above both former Elwha River dam sites.

A Sept. 12 PDN article revealed five Chinook, one steelhead and 10 sockeye salmon in a stretch of river above the dams [“ONP Is Finding Fish In Elwha; Species Located Above Dam Sites”].

Wow! It must have been awesome to count a run of fish like that.

It must have been just like the old days, when you could walk across the water on the salmon — almost.

These are but the first of the 400,000 salmon that are projected to return to the Elwha after the magic of dam removal.

Reactionary elements who doubt historic fish populations on the Elwha can be restored when we have failed this endeavor in other rivers that have never been dammed will have to eat crow.

The Elwha is back!

Those fish had better get busy and spawn.

_________

Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal wildlife@gmail.com.

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