For nearly 100 years, salmon have been blocked from spawning upstream in all but the lower five miles of the river. In 2012, the two dams on the Elwha will be removed, allowing for the return of salmon to the watershed.

The Department of the Interior (National Park Service) now owns both dams, and the federal government has allocated the money for the removal. Since 80 percent of the watershed is in Olympic National Park, the area remains relatively undeveloped.

This is a unique and valuable ecological experiment in which the return and impact of the salmon will be observed and measured. This gargantuan effort to return the historic salmon runs to the river is the second largest restoration project the National Park Service has going in the United States, second to the Everglades. It’s also the largest dam removal project in the world.

High School students are invited to participate in gathering baseline data before the dams are removed, and in restoration efforts afterwards, through the efforts of Olympic Park Institute (OPI), an environmental education center on Lake Crescent.

OPI is part of a consortium originally including Western Washington University, Peninsula College, the National Park Service, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (whose reservation is at the mouth of the river). Since its inception, many other colleges and universities in addition to state and federal agencies have become involved in the research. [To find out how you and your students can get involved in this project go to http://www.elwhascienceed.org/ ].

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