Tag Archives: Olympic National Park

Chipping away at historic Glines Canyon Dam

The contractor for the Elwha dam removal project jumped right into the job yesterday, pounding away at the upper Glines Canyon Dam with a hydraulic hammer mounted on an excavator, which was sitting atop a barge.

By this morning, a good-sized chunk of concrete had been eaten out of the dam, as you can see in the photo below. This picture was taken by one of six webcams that are focused on the two dams. As I mentioned in Water Ways on Aug. 16, this could be the best seat in the house for the deconstruction of the two dams.

Webcam at Glines Canyon Dam / Olympic National Park photo

On the Elwha River Restoration Project webcam page, click on “slideshow” below “Glines Canyon Dam” to get a time-lapse video of all the shots beginning Sept. 4, about two frames per hour during daytime.

At slide 213, you will see the first chunks taken out of the dam yesterday at 10:18 a.m. Use the controls at the bottom to slow down the slideshow to one frame per second, or march through the slideshow frame-by-frame to get a good view of the action.

While these photos will be fun and interesting for everyone to follow, they are an essential part of the monitoring program to ensure that sediment trapped behind the two dams erodes according to plan. I’ll talk a little more about this plan in a story I’m writing for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Olympic National Park’s “Dam Removal Blog” describes the chipping process, including the use of shears to cut steel rebar inside the dam. Workers will chip away a few feet of concrete at a time until reaching the water line. At that point, notching will begin to carefully control the lowering of the water level.

Reporter Tom Callis of the Peninsula Daily News does a nice job describing the start of the actual work. An accompanying video provides the sounds at the start of this historic demolition project.

Also, if you haven’t heard, a formal ceremony to commemorate the removal of two dams on the Elwha River will be shown in a live webcast beginning at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

The ceremony itself, which will be held near the Elwha Dam, is limited to 400 invited guests. But anyone may watch from a big screen at the Port Angeles City Pier or on a special web page accessed through the Celebrate Elwha! website. The webcast is sponsored by the law firms SNR Denton and Perkins Coie.

Speakers at the ceremony will include Gov. Chris Gregoire; U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair; Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar; Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles; and Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin. Musicians also will be featured.

Activities will continue Saturday and Sunday in Port Angeles as part of a weeklong celebration. Live music, artists, food and educational activities will be featured. For a full schedule of events, visit the website Celebrate Elwha!

Stay connected during demolition of Elwha dams

I’m looking forward to watching the two dams on the Elwha River being dismantled — and I won’t have to leave home.

In this July 9 photo, water was pouring through the spillway gates of Glines Canyon Dam. Since then, the reservoir has reached a low of -18 feet pending demolition, and the spill has declined.
Photo courtesy of Robert Dashiell

Sure, I’ll try to make a few trips to Port Angeles and up the Elwha valley to see what I can see at various times. But webcams placed in strategic locations may actually be the best view around.

We won’t be able to judge the quality of the view from the webcams until they are installed later this month. At least that’s the proposed timing, according Olympic National Park officials who are doing their best to help people share the experience of dam removal.

I outlined the options for viewing and information gathering in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun. In addition to webcams, park officials are working to find ways for people to stay connected with the project, both in person and on-line, as I describe in my story.

For ongoing information, there is Facebook, a blog and general information about the dams and dam-removal project.

Not to leave out fun, culture and education, a weeklong celebration is being planned about the time the contractor gets the go-ahead to work in the river on Sept. 15. For a calendar of events, go to the Celebrate Elwha! website.

Meanwhile, reporter Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times was able to capture the sites and sounds of the changing environment as the declining water levels reveal conditions never seen before without scuba gear.

Bull trout in Elwha River given temporary refuge

As demolition time draws near for the two Elwha River dams, 82 bull trout were recently captured in the middle portion of the river and moved upstream out of harm’s way.

Bull Trout / Photo: Olympic National Park

Scientists used their skills with hook-and-line fishing as well as the more direct electroshock treatment to take adults and juveniles from waters in and around Lake Mills at the upper Glines Canyon Dam, as well as from the section of the river between the two dams.

The bull trout averaged 14 inches long, and some were as big as 24 inches.

The fish were held in net pens in Lake Mills for up to 10 days. They were measured and sampled for genetic characteristics. Radio transmitters were implanted in 31 fish to track their movements. Then they were transported by helicopter to two locations upstream, one near Elkhorn Ranger Station and the other at the mouth of Hayes River.

The protective action is considered important, because removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams is likely to dislodge an estimated 24 million cubic yards of sediment that has collected behind the dams since they were built, according to estimates by the Bureau of Reclamation. Most of that sediment will come from a delta at the south end of Lake Mills. Bull trout caught in the sediment-laden river probably will not do well, researchers say.

“Using the best available science, we’ve taken steps to protect the bull trout population and given them immediate access to high-quality, pristine habitats in the upper river through this relocation project,” said Sam Brenkman, fisheries biologist for Olympic National Park.

According to the “Bull Trout Protection and Restoration Plan” (PDF 1.6 mb), turbidity will exceed 1,000 parts per million for extended periods and may periodically exceed 10,000 ppm.

Even at 50 to 100 ppm, bull trout may stop feeding, suffer from gill abrasion and experience stress that can reduce their fitness. Greater levels of turbidity can lead to reduced health and possible death.

Bull trout were moved by helicopter to the upper Elwha River. / Photo: Olympic National Park

It was assumed for planning purposes that fish remaining in the river would die. That’s why a priority was placed on maintaining access to high-quality areas upstream as well as tributaries and off-channel areas that can serve as refugia from the murky waters.

In addition, the demolition schedule includes “fish windows” when construction will cease and the river will clear up to a safer level, allowing for salmon and trout to migrate and spawn. These fish windows are scheduled for November-December to aid coho and chum migration into the Elwha; May-June for hatchery out-migration and steelhead in-migration; and Aug. 1-Sept. 14 for chinook and pink salmon in-migration.

Bull trout were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Over the past five years, fisheries biologists have surveyed the river to find out where the fish hang out, tracked them with radio telemetry and conducted genetic studies to understand their population dynamics.

Based on this work, researchers estimate the adult bull trout population at less than 400 fish, less than 3 percent of the entire Elwha River fish community. Between 60 and 69 percent are found downstream of Rica Canyon, which lies just above Lake Mills.

Moving the fish upstream will allow them to find the most suitable habitat following dam removal. A unique characteristic of bull trout is that some individuals in a given population may migrate to the ocean, while others stay in freshwater their entire lives. Some may move into tributaries or lakes, while others prefer the main river.

Biologists believe bull trout once occupied the entire Elwha River system before the first dam was built in 1910. Following dam removal, the landlocked population above the dams will be able to move all the way downstream. The anadromous population that can’t get above the Elwha Dam will be able to utilize the entire watershed.

The relocation effort fulfills a requirement of a 2000 revision to the 1996 biological opinion for bull trout by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We are pleased that we met our objectives,” said Pat Crain, fisheries biologist for Olympic National Park. “And this project, designed to protect a threatened species, would not have been possible without close collaboration among the various agencies.

“During two weeks of field work, more than 20 biologists — from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Student Conservation Association — assisted with and monitored the capture and relocation effort.”

The relocation work was completed June 17.

Other projects that should help bull trout include a culvert replacement on Griff Creek, a middle tributary of the Elwha, and an evaluation of the competition that occurs with nonnative brook trout.

If you’d like to read more about the Elwha Dam removal, check out the story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun Sept. 4, 2010, or visit Olympic National Park’s “Bull Trout” page.

The tagging of captured bull trout took place on Lake Mills. / NPS photo by John Gussman

Logo aims to capture magnitude of Elwha project

The new logo for the Elwha dam removal and river restoration was unveiled tonight along with the tagline, “Natural Wonders Never Cease.”

The new logo was designed by Laurel Black Design of Port Angeles. The tagline was created by New Path Marketing of Sammamish.

A news release from Olympic National Park says the logo was designed to represent “the magnitude and importance of the Elwha River Restoration project, which includes the largest dam removal in U.S. history and will restore the river’s salmon populations from 3,000 to nearly 400,000.”

“This is an environmental and cultural restoration project that has already attracted national and international attention – and it’s right here in our backyard,” remarked Park Superintendent Karen Gustin.

The Elwha River Restoration page contains links to short descriptions as well as photos, documents, history and frequently asked questions.

If you’d like to check out my latest stories on the project, go to:

Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs

Elwha Restoration: Bringing Back Habitats and Culture

Elwha Restoration: Where Will 400,000 Young Plants Find a Place to Live?

Elwha Restoration: Will We See the Legendary 100-Pound Chinook?

Anticipation is running high for Elwha dams removal

Studies about the future of the Elwha River, which snakes up into Olympic National Park, have been going on for more than 20 years. Now that dam removal is about a year away, excitement is reaching new heights.

Glines Canyon Dam is the larger of the two dams to be removed on the Elwha River.
Photo courtesy of National Park Service

I thought that this would be a good time to discuss the restoration of the river and reservoirs behind the two dams. How will the natural environment change? What kinds of plants will take over? And what will be the future of salmon and steelhead that have hung on in the lower river all these years?

These are subjects I touched on in a series of articles published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun. In one piece, I also mentioned the special cultural significance of the Elwha River to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

What I did not cover in this reporting project was the old debate about whether the two dams should be removed. At $350 million, it’s an expensive project, and some people are convinced that it is not worthwhile. Costs of protecting water quality for the city of Port Angeles and replacing the power for the paper mill are part of the public expense. But these issues were decided long ago.

My intention in these articles was to show what could be expected as the dams come down and the restoration moves into the key areas behind the reservoirs.

Read my stories by clicking on the following:

Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs

Elwha Restoration: Where Will 400,000 Young Plants Find a Place to Live?

Elwha Restoration: Will We See the Legendary 100-Pound Chinook?

Elwha Restoration: Bringing Back Habitats and Culture

Rebuilding specific stocks of salmon, steelhead and trout, along with dam-removal process

For general information with links to related studies, visit the Elwha Watershed Information Resource, developed by the University of Idaho through a cooperative agreement with the NOAA Coastal Services Center and in partnership with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Peninsula College and Western Washington University.

Also check out the Elwha page on Olympic National Park’s website, where another page lists studies and other documents.

Who can’t get excited about the first baby fishers?

I have to admit that I was quite excited when I heard that fishers released into the Olympic Mountains were having babies. A camera placed near the den of one female captured her climbing down a tree and moving her four kits, one by one, to a new den. (See story in today’s Kitsap Sun.)

I immediately called Jeff Lewis, a biologist leading the effort for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Jeff was obviously excited, too. I truly enjoy it when researchers outwardly celebrate their accomplishments, all the while keeping a more objective eye on the data.

I’ve been covering this issue for years, but I met Jeff in person during the fisher release near Lake Cushman in January, when I wrote a Kitsap Sun story (with a video) followed by a Water Ways entry pondering whether these fleeing fishers could find each in the wild and start a family. I also discussed what role these animals might play in the ecosystem — which prompted a lively discussion among readers.

Now we know the answer to the first question and can look forward to more kits being born, eventually rebuilding the population. Then maybe we will learn something about the second question regarding what niche the fishers may fill within the Olympic Peninsula ecosystem.

If you have an interest in the fisher story, I think you will enjoy reading more. WDFW’s “Fishers in Washington” is the place to start, and be sure to follow the links.

Olympic National Park also provides information. See “Biologists Verify First Fishers Born in Washington Since Reintroduction Began” and the “Fisher Reintroduction” page.

Fishers in the Olympics help us think big

The effort to reintroduce fishers into Olympic National Park continues to be an exciting good-news story, but the implications may be even greater than they seem at first glance.

We must wait to see whether the males and females among the 40 or more fishers will find each other. But biologists say there’s a good chance they will, and researchers may discover some dens with kits either this spring or maybe next year.

I had the privilege of seeing five fishers released yesterday near Staircase Ranger Station in Olympic National Park. These were the first animals to be released on the east side of the mountains. For a description of their rapid escape into the woods, see my story and watch the video in today’s Kitsap Sun.

While on the outing, I talked to Jasmine Minbashian of Conservation Northwest about the potential for unexpected results from this experiment. As an example, she wondered about the potential of a trophic cascade, such as seen in Yellowstone Park after the introduction of wolves. In a chain of events, the wolves have done a great favor for fish in the national park.

Wolves not only eat elk at times, but their presence frightens away these animals that love to eat the shoots of aspen trees. Without the elk browsing continuously, the aspens grow into dense vegetation that can provide shade, cover and insects — all to the benefits of fish and other creatures.

Chris Conway of the New York Times does a nice job explaining this in a brief story from Aug. 5, 2007. For a little longer version, see Science Daily, which points out:

Prior to the re-introduction of wolves, scientists found there were many small sprouting shoots of these important tree species, and numbers of large trees 70 years old or more — but practically nothing in between. High populations of grazing ungulates, primarily elk, had grazed on the small tree shoots at leisure and with little fear of attack.

But the ecological damage, researchers say, went far beyond just trees. The loss of trees and shrubs opened the door to significant stream erosion. Beaver dams declined. Food webs broke down, and the chain of effects rippled through birds, insects, fish and other plant and animal species.

For more information about trophic cascades, go to the Web site of Oregon State University, where this issue is being studied in depth.

As for Olympic National Park, the extermination of wolves on the peninsula may have had a cascading effect on species that depend on cottonwood and bigleaf maples. The Fall 2008 issue of Island Geoscience (PDF 732 kb) tells it this way:

In 1890, members of the Press Expedition found the banks of the upper Quinault River “so dense with underbrush as to be almost impenetrable,” they wrote at the time. Logs jammed the rivers, dense tree canopies shaded and cooled the streams, and trout and salmon thrived, along with hundreds of species of plants and animals.

“Today, you go through the same area and instead of dense vegetation that you have to fight through, it’s a park-like stand of predominantly big trees,” said Bill Ripple, a co-author of the study and forestry professor at Oregon State University. “It’s just a different world.”

“Our study shows that there has been almost no recruitment of new cottonwood and bigleaf maple trees since the wolves disappeared, and also likely impacts on streamside shrubs, which are very important for river stability,” said Robert Beschta, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of forest hydrology at OSU. “Decreases in woody plant communities allow river banks to rapidly erode and river channels to widen.”

Efforts to reintroduce wolves to the Olympic Peninsula are on hold for the time being. But we have a lot to think about. What we can learn from the fisher may be much more than the idea that we should have a few more of the furry animals running around.