$1 million will spur cutting-edge research on Elwha River as two dams are removed

Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- What can a million dollars buy?

To researchers and scientists who form part of the recently created Elwha Research Consortium, the answer is a lot of cutting-edge science with long-lasting consequences.

The consortium on Tuesday at Peninsula College announced that it had received two grants totaling $1 million from the National Science Foundation to fund unprecedented studies of the ecological effects of the removal of the two Elwha River dams.

In terms of studying how salmon will eventually repopulate the river as well as how the river's habitat and species look before, during and after the dams are removed in 2008, the grants make possible a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for scientists representing several agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula, the researchers said.

``We have the perfect experiment here,'' said Bill Laitner, Olympic National Park superintendent, on Tuesday.

``Is there a better opportunity [for research] in the world of salmon biology or habitat restoration?''

Olympic National Park is charged with overseeing the removal of the two dams.

Members of the consortium include Peninsula College, Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Olympic National Park, Olympic Park Institute, U.S. Geological Survey's Western Fisheries Research Center, and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

Undergraduate research

The grants will fund unique research projects for 16 undergraduate students at Peninsula College and WWU's Huxley College for the Environment at Peninsula College for the next four years.

Under the grants' guidelines, four of the 16 students must come from the Lower Elwha tribe.

The grants will also give the consortium the ability to organize its data and create a small infrastructure that could attract more researchers -- and grants -- to the group.

Perhaps the most salient aspect of the research potential for the Elwha River is creating baseline data, which consists of gathering information on species and habitat at the river before the dams -- which were built more than 80 years ago -- come down.

``The time to get the `before' data is now,'' said Jerry Freilich, a research and monitoring coordinator at Olympic National Park who is also one of the architects of the consortium.



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