The Elwha River dams have disconnected the upper and lower Elwha watershed for over 94 years. This has disrupted salmon migration and reduced salmon habitat by 90%. Several historical salmonid populations have been extirpated, and remaining populations are dramatically smaller than estimated historical population size. Dam removal will reconnect upstream habitats which will increase salmonid carrying capacity, and allow the downstream movement of sediment and wood leading to long-term aquatic habitat improvements. We hypothesize that salmonids will respond to the dam removal by establishing persistent, self-sustaining populations above the dams within one to two generations. We collected data on the impacts of the Elwha River dams on salmonid populations and developed predictions of species-specific response dam removal. Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), Chinook (O. tshawytscha), and steelhead (O. mykiss) will exhibit the greatest spatial extent due to their initial population size, timing, ability to maneuver past natural barriers, and propensity to utilize the reopened alluvial valleys. Populations of pink (O. gorbuscha), chum (O. keta), and sockeye (O. nerka) salmon will follow in extent and timing because of smaller extant populations below the dams. The initially high sediment loads will increase stray rates from the Elwha and cause deleterious effects in the egg to outmigrant fry stage for all species. Dam removal impacts will likely cause a lag in recolonization and population rebuilding. These negative sediment effects will be locally buffered by the extent of functioning floodplain, and management attempts to minimize sediment impacts. Resident life forms of char (Salvelinus confluentus), rainbow trout (O. mykiss), and cutthroat (O. clarki) will positively interact with their anadromous counterparts resulting in a positive population level response.
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