[water murmuring] ♪ VANESSA: The river is our lifeblood.
It was our meals, our lifestyle.
It was every thing to us.
The dams had been constructed within the early 1900s they usually had been constructed to create energy.
We noticed the fish populations decline to the place we weren’t positive how lengthy we had been going to have the ability to feed our individuals.
Preventing for the dam elimination was an extended and grueling strategy of my ancestors.
[explosion booming] I want they might see it now.
See what has occurred right here and the way our lands have been therapeutic.
My individuals could be proud that we’ve got been part of this.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: It’s mentioned that each river tells a narrative, and right here in Washington State, one waterway speaks to the story of a complete area, America’s Pacific Northwest.
It is often called the Elwha.
The Elwha flows from the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains and winds its means via dense old-growth forests to the ocean.
It as soon as teemed with all 5 species of Pacific salmon till somewhat over 100 years in the past when the Elwha, like so many different rivers on this area, was dammed.
♪ KIM: There was a time in our historical past that we needed to regulate nature and we needed to harness the ability of a river.
NARRATOR: Within the early 1900s, hydroelectric dams powered booming industries however most had been constructed with out regard for the big affect they’d have on river ecosystems.
VANESSA: Again in these days, they did not keep in mind all the issues below the water once they harnessed the ability.
We noticed the fish bodily bumping their heads towards the dams till they might die and they might not spawn.
So it was over time turning into an emergency.
NARRATOR: As dams went up throughout the Pacific Northwest salmon numbers plummeted, harming each the wild habitats and the human communities that relied on them.
VANESSA: We knew that we needed to save the salmon.
♪ NARRATOR: From the outset, Indigenous individuals pushed for the dams to be eliminated.
Over time, because the dams aged and have become costlier to keep up they received over allies and handed new legal guidelines.
Lastly, in 2011, they received a monumental victory [explosion booming] and the Elwha dams got here down.
♪ [explosion booming] It was the most important dam elimination in world historical past.
[explosions booming] And it posed a vital query for the numerous different dammed rivers right here, throughout the US, and past.
Might an ecosystem disrupted for a century return to its former glory and well being?
10 years on, the reply is now coming into focus.
Thanks largely to the identical individuals who led the battle to tear down the Elwha’s dams, the Decrease Elwha Klallam Tribe.
VANESSA: We’re Elwha Klallam as a result of our village was right here on the mouth of the river.
Our individuals had been right here due to the salmon and we determined to name this residence as a result of it was so wealthy in these vitamins.
NARRATOR: For the tribe, the elimination of the dams was just the start.
Over the previous decade they’ve pushed the trouble to doc the river’s restoration.
VANESSA: As a individuals, we proceed to watch our river and our fish populations and we’re doing the work to assist restore the river.
NARRATOR: The tribe solid partnerships with authorities businesses and conservation organizations.
In addition they employed and work alongside a workforce of main scientists like Kim Sager-Fradkin.
Kim embraced what she noticed as a once-in-a- lifetime alternative.
Beginning even earlier than the dams got here down.
KIM: We had been going through this unprecedented dam elimination and so there was actually a grassroots effort of biologists and scientists that began researching every thing from the crops to the sediment to the fish, like we’d like baseline knowledge.
[speaker speaks indistinctly] KEITH: Male chinook, holding.
NARRATOR: The researchers have tracked many species through the years.
KEITH: Feminine chinook, holding.
NARRATOR: However they’ve paid closest consideration to salmon.
KEITH: One of many greatest questions arising the dam elimination and after dam elimination is how is that this gonna have an effect on salmon populations?
Salmon have to swim upstream with a purpose to spawn.
The primary dam is at river mile 5.
The second was at river mile 13.
Neither one was constructed with any fish passage amenities so there was very restricted pure spawning space for the fish.
NARRATOR: Earlier than the dams went up, about 400,000 salmon returned from the ocean to the Elwha every year to spawn.
By 2011, that quantity had fallen by over 99% to fewer than 4,000.
VANESSA: Yearly we noticed the numbers decline, the river turned to all cobblestone, and there was no effective pebbles for them to put their nest in, and it created a disaster for the habitat of the river.
NARRATOR: The Elwha’s woes mirrored a wider pattern.
Salmon have gone extinct in not less than 40% of their authentic vary throughout the Pacific Northwest, and their disappearance has be en felt by many different species.
KEITH: Salmon out-migrate within the Pacific Northwest as a result of the rivers do not need a lot vitamins in it.
They can not get large within the river.
They should go to the ocean.
So they arrive again with all these vitamins they usually deposit these within the freshwater ecosystem and lots of of various species devour these fish: eagles, otters and bears.
They’ve even picked up the sign within the timber subsequent to the river.
Marine-derived vitamins from the salmon simply filter out into just about any nook of the ecosystem you may consider.
NARRATOR: Some name this course of the nutrient categorical and it is how the fish operate as a keystone species supporting biodiversity in rivers and the encircling ecosystems.
KIM: It actually adjustments issues once you put an enormous obstacle like a concrete wall on a river.
NARRATOR: When these nice partitions lastly fell, scientists looked for any signal of a salmon comeback however they noticed one thing else first.
MIKE: One of the dramatic issues we noticed instantly after dam elimination was the quantity of sediment that the river was shifting via.
The river deposited 3 million cubic yards of fabric within the estuary and reworked itself from a sediment-starved system dominated by very giant cobble to then getting this shot of sediment of smaller sizes, a lot of gravel, so forming new spawning areas.
And in order that was a very cool factor to see.
♪ NARRATOR: This reworked riverbed appeared primed for an onrush of salmon, however surprisingly, salmon weren’t the primary fish to reap the benefits of it en masse.
KEITH: Undoubtedly, the fish that has proven essentially the most hopeful and the quickest restoration is steelhead.
NARRATOR: Steelhead begin life as bizarre rainbow trout.
Many of those fish spend their entire lives in contemporary water.
However in free operating rivers, some rainbow trout mature into steelhead, fish that, like salmon, migrate to and from the ocean.
For a century, the dams blocked their route.
KEITH: There have been rainbow trout trapped above the dams pre-dam elimination and now we see the river is simply full of untamed steelhead.
NARRATOR: Steelhead’s full lifecycle has been restored.
And now the salmon are following go well with.
MIKE: What we’re seeing is a resurgence of quite a few species.
2021, the latest 12 months we’ve got, we had over 6,000 coho salmon return to the river.
NARRATOR: That is nearly twice as many as two years earlier.
MIKE: Within the case of the Chinook these fish are spawning within the river.
We have had some indicators from pink salmon.
And so I am tremendous constructive.
The fish are resilient.
Mom Nature is resilient.
If people simply let pure processes proceed there is no cause we won’t get well these animals.
NARRATOR: Restoring pure processes does take time and for these whose livelihoods depend upon salmon it requires main sacrifice.
VANESSA: Throughout the dam elimination they positioned a moratorium on the river so we’re not in a position to fish our river proper now.
And we agreed to that to assist the ecosystem rebuild and revive itself and to heal.
NARRATOR: The hope is that the return of salmon will reignite the nutrient categorical.
It is perhaps gradual going however already the salmon’s affect could also be seen to those that know the place to look.
♪ SCOTT: I am Scott Walters.
I’m a PhD candidate at Western College and what we’re doing is we’re gonna be establishing some mist nets, that are a kind of effective mesh netting that you simply string between poles for the aim of catching American dippers.
NARRATOR: Dippers are songbirds that seize their prey in a most uncommon means.
It is what first received Scott interested by learning them.
SCOTT: That is my favourite species of chook.
Once I was in undergrad, I went to a ravishing canyon.
I went mountaineering and on my means out I noticed this very attention-grabbing chook doing this little bob movement dipping which is what provides it his title, and it flies underwater with a purpose to catch its prey.
And once you first see the species doing that it is unimaginable, particularly for me, it simply blew me away, and I simply fell in love immediately.
NARRATOR: Dippers typically feed on bugs however additionally they have a particular style for salmon offspring.
SCOTT: Dippers eat the salmon eggs they usually additionally eat the small fry, the little juveniles of salmon.
They themselves are terrestrial so they’re kind of a hyperlink that connects the aquatic realm into the terrestrial ecosystem.
NARRATOR: The dippers could possibly be an early signal that the nutrient categorical is kicking again into gear.
To verify that, Scott and his colleagues have to see if the Elwha’s resurgent salmon are ending up in dippers’ diets and that requires learning them fingers on.
SCOTT: Tom, we caught a chook.
Would you please come and be part of us?
Really caught two directly.
NARRATOR: The nets are delicate and do not damage the birds.
SCOTT: It seems like we’ve got some kind of thrush within the internet as effectively over there.
NARRATOR: Scientists have discovered that the birds on this space are doing very effectively currently, laying two clutches of eggs every season as a substitute of their common one.
Scott desires to find out if a salmon wealthy food regimen is the explanation for it.
SCOTT: And so I simply know from my notes that that is the male, that is the daddy of the birds on this territory.
NARRATOR: Seems that is the precise chook Scott hoped to seize.
A male believed to have father two broods this season.
SCOTT: Very first thing I am gonna do because it’s already banded is I am gonna take its weight, 56.9.
Okay, I am gonna go forward and begin the method for bleeding.
NARRATOR: The blood samples will allow Scott to review the supply of this male’s success.
SCOTT: So I am gonna be wanting on the fatty acid profile.
What fat are within the chook, how a lot of every of these fat and which fat got here from the place, the ocean, from a salmon, simply from native stream or no matter.
NARRATOR: The workforce is discovering excessive ranges of ocean vitamins within the dipper’s blood.
A robust sign that the return of salmon is giving these birds a lift.
SCOTT: Once they have these ocean-derived meals sources they’re extra profitable at creating further nests so the species can propagate higher.
KIM: The flexibility to truly measure change is a recreation changer as a result of we are able to display that.
We are able to let you know that these animals now have these marine-derived vitamins of their programs.
We are able to see it of their claws, of their feathers, we are able to see it of their blood.
NARRATOR: Scott and his workforce will proceed to review how the salmon’s comeback right here advantages different animals.
♪ However some researchers are taking a extra proactive method attempting to assist the native flowers reroot.
ALLYCE: Welcome to the previous Aldwell Reservoir.
This was a lake and that received dewatered as soon as the decrease dam got here out.
So now we’re in a former reservoir that we’ve got re-vegetated.
NARRATOR: Replanting native vegetation that grew right here a century in the past is a precedence for the Decrease Elwha Klallam Tribe and its companions, together with Olympic Nationwide Park.
ALLYCE: You possibly can’t have a thriving fish neighborhood with no habitat.
You possibly can’t have a wildlife neighborhood with no habitat.
So re-vegetating and restoring it again to the surroundings that it was is the idea of wholesome ecosystem.
♪ With all of this planting we have had some fairly cool issues occur like an enormous colonization of river lupine.
A few of us name it the champion of the Elwha as a result of it lays down numerous natural matter on the bottom which offers soil and vitamins for different issues to develop.
NARRATOR: Different issues embrace native timber like cedars and grand firs, but in addition invasive species.
ALLYCE: So invasive species will encroach on native crops’ habitat.
They’re further good at reproducing and rising.
So right here we’ve got some Herb Robert that is going to encroach on this grand fir and cedars habitat.
We’ll pull it and we take it out as a result of if we do not take it out, then it’s going to reroot and develop the place we put it on the bottom right here.
So it is necessary for us to take away it.
NARRATOR: Restoring native crops and purging invasives is an arduous activity.
However the laborious work is paying off.
ALLYCE: Simply seeing issues pop up on the bottom and develop and filling this barren panorama with a forest once more is so inspiring and superior.
KIM: These are lush forests now in a system that 10 years in the past was simply mud.
It’s inexperienced, inexperienced, inexperienced, and purple if the lupines are blooming, it’s alive.
So completely satisfied to see the lupine out right here right this moment.
VANESSA: Yeah, it is stunning.
All proper, you need to do knowledge?
NARRATOR: Now that native vegetation is taking root once more within the Elwha River Valley, many are questioning if its native wildlife will likely be subsequent.
Digital camera traps are the device of alternative for this investigation.
VANESSA: There’s 904 photographs.
KIM: 904, okay.
VANESSA: And battery is at 100%.
NARRATOR: The cameras have captured quite a lot of creatures in an space that 10 years in the past was totally underwater.
KIM: We’re actually how all of these animals have moved again into the Elwha after dam elimination and after these two reservoirs had been dewatered.
NARRATOR: Just lately, each herbivores and carnivores have been noticed right here.
Their presence bodes effectively for the ecosystem and will serve to widen the attain of the nutrient categorical.
KIM: These animals can carry these carcasses away from the river, drop the carcasses on the bottom, and thereby fertilize the encircling timber.
So now every thing on this system has entry to those nutrient- wealthy little packets that come within the type of salmon and thereby affect the encircling habitats.
NARRATOR: The Elwha River Valley is exhibiting indicators of renewal.
♪ It is turn into a beacon of hope for different river ecosystems and a rallying level for these preventing for comparable outcomes elsewhere.
KIM: The Elwha offers a fantastic mannequin for dam removals within the West.
PROTESTERS: Cease salmon extinction!
NARRATOR: Over 800 dams have come down within the a long time because the Elwha was let loose.
LEADER: When do we would like motion?
NARRATOR: In California and Oregon, dams alongside the Klamath River are anticipated to return down quickly.
They will eclipse the Elwha as the most important dam removals in historical past.
And there is a main new proposal gaining help throughout the political spectrum, the Columbia Basin Initiative, which goals to take away 4 large dams on the decrease Snake River.
If accepted, it could rewild hundreds of miles of rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest.
PROTESTERS: Cease salmon extinction!
KIM: There are scientists throughout watching us.
I believe that the extra dams that we are able to take down, particularly antiquated dams, the higher.
♪ KEITH: No matter what you’re feeling about ecosystem restoration and eradicating the dams for the fish, simply the lifespan of those concrete constructions is coming to an finish.
After which there’s this kind of added bonus of like, hey, we are able to do numerous constructive issues for the surroundings right here and likewise make the financially sound alternative.
NARRATOR: The arguments for dam elimination are rising stronger, and for individuals who have fought for it the longest and the toughest, dam elimination is not nearly reviving ecosystems and sensible economics.
It is also about restoring a lifestyle.
VANESSA: Seeing this ecosystem come alive once more is a ravishing factor.
And rewilding this territory from the elimination of those dams is a step in the correct course for our individuals to heal.
Hold your eyes peeled.
NARRATOR: Yearly, the Decrease Elwha Klallam Tribe organizes a summer season camp with the academic group Nature Bridge.
ZOE: Discovered it.
VANESSA: Oh, Zoe discovered it.
SARA: Oh, good.
Good job, Zoe.
VANESSA: Good chay.
NARRATOR: Many of those children are members of the tribe.
They’re the primary technology in over a century by no means to have seen the Elwha dammed.
♪ Over the course of this journey they will spend time on the river and on all the brand new playgrounds that dam elimination has created alongside the Elwha’s path to the ocean.
♪ PARKER: I am simply mesmerized as a result of it is a very nice river.
JAMES: We’re discovering out what do salmon eat.
GIA: I wanna like swim in it.
BRADLEY: I really feel like I am at residence.
NARRATOR: For his or her counselors, members and staff of the Decrease Elwha Klallam Tribe and different S’Klallam tribes close by, it is important to share these kinds of experiences with the subsequent technology.
JONATHAN: To have each science and tradition intertwine is necessary.
We’re a salmon individuals, and so with the elimination of those dams, we’re gonna have a stronger connection to the pure world as our ancestors did.
ANGELINA: For me, I simply really feel like I am doing what I am speculated to be doing and I am honoring our individuals.
Cedar, that is holy.
It is gonna be laborious to strip it.
What provides me essentially the most hope is that I really feel like I am preserving our tradition alive.
I get to carry again these teachings that had not been handed down for a very long time.
♪ My dad all the time says, if I’m able to encourage one child, then I did my job proper.
♪ NARRATOR: Due to the work of a number of generations, the long run is wanting vivid for the Elwha River and the Elwha individuals.
♪ And right this moment, the tribe and its scientists are constructing on their successes, inspiring others within the Pacific Northwest and all over the world to comply with their lead.
KIM: Working for the tribe on one thing that was so necessary for them has simply been an enormous honor to have the ability to doc the change in that system.
♪ Simply with the ability to stand on the dam and the awe that I really feel now in seeing the transition from them being reservoirs to those muddy sediment- lined moonscapes to now these lush forests that I do know are stuffed with wildlife is fairly spectacular.
♪ VANESSA: I really like that my individuals had been those who had been in a position to win the primary battle for dam elimination, and I hope that there are various extra that come due to this.
♪ KIM: The message of that place is hope, nature will get well itself if given the chance.
And to me, that is hopeful.
♪ ♪ ♪