Shared Strategy for Puget Sound
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Salmon Recovery Plan
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Meet the Salmon

The Elwha and Dungeness watersheds support one of the most diverse groupings of salmon populations in the state. The Elwha and Dungeness River are home to threatened summer/fall Elwha Chinook, threatened spring/summer Dungeness Chinook, threatened Hood Canal/Strait of Juan de Fuca summer chum, threatened bull trout, and populations of Coho, chum, pink, summer and winter steelhead, rainbow trout and sea-run and resident cutthroat. Prior to construction of the Elwha Dam, the Elwha River also supported a population of sockeye salmon.

Bull Trout
Salmon images courtesy of King County. Steelhead image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.
How Chinook, Summer Chum and Bull Trout Use the Watershed

Chinook return to the Dungeness River from late spring to mid-summer and spawn throughout the Dungeness River from early-August to early-October. Chinook return to the Elwha River from late-spring through late-September and spawn from late-August through mid-October.

Estuarine habitat is very important in both rivers, with chinook spending most of their first year in the estuary or nearshore area. A small portion of the run in each river may also spend a full year in fresh water before moving into the nearshore area. Chinook are mainstem spawners. This makes them vulnerable to high and low flow damage and to degraded river conditions in the lower part of the rivers.

Listed summer chum are assumed to utilize only the Dungeness River. They enter the river in late August and spawn in the main channel through September. The young fish will then migrate to the estuary and nearshore area shortly after emerging from the gravel in late-spring.

Bull trout can be found throughout both watersheds. They reproduce in colder water than other salmonids (48F or less). Some adults remain in fresh water all their lives (particular in the Elwha River, where migration has been interrupted by the presence of the two dams), while others migrate to the estuary in spring and summer and return upstream to spawn in the fall.

Tagging and tracking of bull trout populations in the Dungeness River is currently underway, in order to better understand how these unique fish use the watershed. In the Elwha River, preliminary population assessment work has been completed in association with Elwha Dam removal, in order to understand the potential impact of dam removal on the population. Genetic analysis of these population is expected in both watersheds in the near future.

Salmon and the Elwha and Dungeness Watersheds



For more information about salmon recovery planning in this watershed, visit:

Dungeness River Management Team
Clallam County Salmon Page

Click here to read this watershed's feedback summary.


Key Facts

Most of these watersheds are located in Clallam County (19% in Jefferson Co.);

Major cities are Sequim and Port Angeles.

Projected population growth for Clallam County is 16% from 2000 to 2020.

A portion of WRIA 17 (Quilcene Basin), the WRIA 18 (Dungeness and Elwha River Basins) and WRIA 19 (Hoko-Lyre Basin) planning areas represent one planning area under Shared Strategy and that area includes the western Strait of Juan de Fuca which stretches out to Neah Bay, the westernmost point of the continental U.S.

The planning areas for the watersheds under the state Watershed Management Act are Watershed Resource Inventory Area 17 (Quilcene Basin), 18 (Elwha-Dungeness) and WRIA 19 (Lyre-Hoko).


Located on the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, the Elwha and Dungeness rivers share a unique part of Puget Sound. Nestled in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, these basins are part of a region that receives less rainfall and more sunshine than any place in the Sound. In the Dungeness Watershed, this drier climate is both a boon for sun-lovers and a bane for farmers in the Dungeness River Valley, who need to irrigate their fields and for salmon, which need sufficient flows in which to swim.

Both the Elwha and Dungeness Rivers originate in Olympic National Park, a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. The Dungeness, one of the steepest rivers in Puget Sound, plunges 7,000 feet from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains. The Elwha River is one of the largest and perhaps historically the most productive salmon streams of the Olympic Peninsula. Scientists believe that some of the largest Chinook in the state used to swim here.

The inviting climate of this predominantly rural area has drawn a steady stream of new residents in recent decades and has become a favorite place for retirees, whose ranks have tripled in the past 30 years.

Major Policy or Actions Needed to Recover Salmon

Funding Is Needed to Remove Two Dams on the Elwha River, Opening 70 Miles of Mainstem and Tributary Habitat
The aging Elwha and Glines Canyon dams completely block access to 93 percent of the high-quality spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and trout in the watershed. Their removal, scheduled to begin in 2008, would restore 70 miles of prime habitat, most of it in pristine condition thanks to its location within Olympic National Park.

Approximately 75% of the funding needed to remove the dams has been awarded by the Federal Government. Remaining funds needed are expected to be appropriated over the next two years, but until funds are in hand, dam removal cannot proceed.

In addition to removal, protection and restoration of the lower reaches of the river will be critical for Elwha salmon restoration efforts to reach their full potential. Currently, scientists and planners are working together to build a strategy for species’ re-introduction and for addressing major disturbances that go along with dam removal. A watershed planning group is also holding public forums to address water use and other issues not covered through dam removal. Adoption of this plan by Clallam County would be a major step towards protecting productive fish habitat in both the Elwha and Dungeness Rivers. (Also see selected accomplishments below.)

Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT) Addressing Habitat Protection and Restoration Opportunities
Property owners, farmers, and representatives of federal, tribal and state agencies work together with local jurisdictions on the Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT) to address habitat protection and restoration opportunities on the Dungeness River.

Historically, dikes, levees and other actions to control the lower reaches of the rivers have degraded vital refuge for juvenile salmon, and over-wintering habitat and contribute to scouring of redds. The DRMT’s ten strategic restoration elements include actions to reestablish floodplain functions along the lower river from the estuary to approximately RM 11.3, protect side channels, and restore stream side vegetation in the upper reaches of the river and its tributaries. Significant improvements have been made in water conservation, instream flow protection and water quality, but additional funding is needed to fully implement the DRMT Strategy.

New Development Adding to Water Pollution Problems
While pushing up demand for fresh water, development is also adding contaminated run-off from lawns, driveways, parking lots, and other urban features, and from farm animals, decaying irrigation ditches, leaky septic systems and other sources. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe recently was forced to abandon commercial oyster harvests due to excessive bacteria levels. County and tribal officials are working to identify and address pollution sources.


We’re Making Progress—Some Accomplishments

Elwha River Dam Removal a Success Story in Waiting
Dam removal dominates the view of Elwha salmon recovery efforts. Congress authorized removal of the dams in 1992, after the Elwha Klallam Tribe, local industry, environmental groups and various agencies worked out a cooperative agreement to remove the two federal facilities.

Under the federal Elwha Restoration Act, which authorized dam removal, the federal government has also acquired lands in the floodplain associated with the present reservoirs. These lands will be maintained in a state consistent with the goals of ecosystem restoration.

After dam removal, biologists anticipate a steady and potentially spectacular recovery of a river system that once produced hundred-pound Chinook. They are also preparing for significant changes to the nearshore/marine environment.

Conservation Returns Water to the River
Diminished river flows common in the Dungeness during late summer and early fall, hamper the migrations of returning adults and steal usable habitat from young salmon preparing for life in the ocean.

Beginning in 1988, the Dungeness River Agricultural Water Users Association, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and other stakeholders pioneered a unique and successful approach to restore water to the river. The conservation plan has so far slashed irrigation withdrawals by 1/3rd and of those savings 2/3rds are “returned” to the river and 1/3rd is reserved for future agricultural use. The project has been honored with President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development Award, and Governor Gary Locke’s Environmental Excellence Award.

Hatchery Program Shows Success
With the assistance of an extensive enhancement program incorporating a captive brood program, acclimation ponds, and other innovative enhancement techniques, returns of listed Chinook to the Dungeness River have increased from less than 100 fish to over 500 fish spawning naturally within the system. The first generation of returns from these naturally spawning fish is expected over the next several years.

Collaboration Leads to Creek Restoration
Through the cooperative effort of a number of local, state, and federal agencies, a major restoration effort for summer chum on Jimmycomelately Creek is underway. This effort includes the diversion of the creek into a recreated meandering stream channel within the historic floodplain, the construction of a highway bridge across the recreated channel (replacing a six-foot box culvert in the current channel), the reconnection of the creek to its historic estuary, the restoration of the estuary through the removal of roads within the estuary, and a innovative enhancement program. Stream flow will be diverted to the new channel as early as October, 2004. In addition, the enhancement program has helped increase the return to the river from a low of just 7 fish, to nearly the 1,000 fish expected to return to the river this year. in just the first week of returns in 2004, over 350 natural spawners have been counted into the river.

Organizations Involved

  • Clallam County
  • Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
  • Riverside Property Owners
  • Dungeness River Agriculture
  • Water Users Association
  • Sports Fisheries
  • WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
  • WA Dept. of Ecology
  • Puget Sound Action Team
  • Watershed/DQ Planning
  • City of Sequim
  • North Olympic Land Trust
  • Protect the Peninsula's Future
  • City of Port Angeles
  • Elwha Klallam Tribe, Agnew Irrigation District


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