Less than six years ago, the second of two dams on the Elwha River, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, was taken out to provide access for fish to the upper river located in the Olympic National Park. Since then, we have witnessed a remarkable transformation of the river – and of the wildlife that depend on it. Before the dams were installed in the early 1900s, the Elwha produced consistent and robust runs of salmon and steelhead and was a productive fishery. Afterwards, these runs dwindled almost to nothing. In fact, the river’s summer run of steelhead was almost extirpated.
But taking out the dams paid immediate dividends for salmon and steelhead, which are now being found throughout the watershed. And summer steelhead, in particular, have staged an amazing comeback. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, summer steelhead have repopulated the Elwha in numbers unthinkable a few years ago. This film, from renowned filmmaker Shane Anderson, documents the return of summer steelhead to the Elwha, some of the key players who are studying the recovery of salmon and steelhead in this river, and what the Elwha’s recovery can tell us about large-scale river restoration projects in other places.