photo: USFWS Pacific (Flickr CC)

In Port Angeles, Washington State, USA a rare wildlife success story is taking place. The first wild steelhead trout has been seen in 100 years, since the construction of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

Efforts by government scientists and members of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe to repopulate fish in the Elwha river (previously obstructed by the dams) have included releasing coho salmon and steelhead trout into the wild. But what surprised them most was not spotting the released fish, but discovering a wild steelhead that had found its own way to the previously cut off territory.

In September, as part of the largest river-restoration project ever undertaken, the 108-foot-high Elwha Dam was blasted down. Engineers since then have been chipping away at the even bigger Glines Canyon dam about eight miles upstream. The hope is that the $325-million project will restore the legendary fish runs that once saw 100-pound chinook salmon fighting their way up the majestic river.

–Los Angeles Times

Reintroducing farmed fish into the wild is not without controversy. Some believe that fish bred in captivity are genetically weaker, which could weaken the wild stocks. But the repopulation by wild fish is what gives the most hope: that humanity can destroy nature and nature can still manage to recover on its own.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

A similar story is taking place near Portland, Oregon. Record numbers of sockeye salmon are expected to return to the Northwest’s Columbia Basin this year. And all this without destroying the Bonneville Dam, which was built in 1938.

From the Associated Press:

Biologists credit habitat improvements in the Okanagan Basin of northern Washington and Canada, improved dam operations, and favorable ocean conditions for the numbers. Okanagan sockeye swim more than 500 mils to spawn.

Before improvements were made to the operations of the hydroelectric dams, they would wash away the salmon eggs before they could hatch.

The fish and wildlife director for the local tribes believes that the more the fish’s traditional habitat is restored, the more will come – up to 1 million.