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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

River Ecology Restored After Dam Removal

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, January 18, 2016/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment

Years ago, I worked on a restoration project with a diverse team of environmental scientists and engineers. Our wildlife biologist advised us that: "if you have the habitat, you'll have the wildlife". That seemed too simple a statement but watcing the results from the removal of dams on Washington's Elwha River shows just how true his statement was.

Riled Up has followed removal of outdated dams including the Elwha with commentaries including: One Dam Down. Since then, much has happened after the salmon spawing river was was allow to flow in its original course. New research conducted by Ohio State University shows that the recovery has been faster than anyone anticipated.


                                        American Dipper, Elwha River, Washington (credit: OSU)

Studying the behavior of American dippers, a small bird that flourishes on the salmon-rich side of dams in the western United States but struggles when trying to nest on the side closed off to fish and the nutrients they leave behind, the new study measured the rates of ecosystem recoery. Lead researcher Chris Tonra observed old river beds that looked like moonscapes prior to the dam's removal return to vibrant, rich,wildlife habitat and cascades emerge where none had been before. Salmon had returned to their 19th Century spawning beds and dippers were diving, feeding, and nesting where they had not existed for at least for a hundred years along the once flooded river.

Commenting on the ecological results of the OSU study,

"The areas previously depleted of salmon are on a fast track to recovery in a shorter time than he ever expected after the dam removal. That these rivers can come back within our own generation is a really exciting thing. Watching that happen was just incredible."

A time-lapse video shows the Elwha Dam removal process between 2011-2012:

One dam down, other deadbeat relics remain, and many rivers still to be restored.



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