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Will Salmon Need Help Repopulating Unblocked Elwha River?

There’s visible evidence in Olympic National Park’s Elwha Valley today that a 25-year-long debate over dam removal is over.

Heavy construction equipment is in place and a manmade lake has been drawn down.

Actual deconstruction of two dams starts next year. Tom Banse reports people are already asking whether legendary 100-pound salmon will return to the Elwha River.

Elwha River restoration project manager Brian Winter swears the humongous salmon are not an exaggerated fish story.

According to the National Park Service, 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam will be the tallest dam ever purposely torn down in the world.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Brian Winter: “The 100-pound fish were documented in state archives. They did exist.”

Those “hogs” disappeared when two tall hydropower dams rose on the Elwha River. That was nearly a hundred years ago. Neither dam has a fish ladder. But vestiges of the historic bounty survive.

Brian Winter: “If you go to Elwha Dam today, you will see Chinook at the base of the dam still trying to get upstream over a hundred years. Every year they congregate at Elwha Dam — as well as coho and steelhead — still trying to get upstream.”

Winter says the Park Service plans to accelerate the natural repopulation of the Elwha River after the dams are gone.

The plan includes flying juvenile Chinook to the headwaters by helicopter.