Restoring the Elwha: Salmon, dams and people on the Olympic Peninsula. A case study of environmental decision-making

Virginia G. Egan (2007)

The Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Program, conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, in partnership with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, seeks to restore the native anadromous fisheries (salmon and steelhead) of the Elwha watershed. At its core is the removal of both the Elwha and Glines Canyon hydroelectric dams. Environmental impacts from these dams were identified as the predominant factor in the degradation of the Elwha River's fisheries in several federal studies and environmental impact statements. The purpose of this dissertation was to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of what it takes to accomplish selective dam removals as one example of the complex environmental decision-making we face as a nation. Using a case study approach, the dissertation identified three periods that were examined in depth to reveal decision-making by federal and state agencies; the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, national environmental organizations, and community stakeholders: (1) the FERC relicensing proceedings (1968-1994), during which FERC considered applications for an original license for Elwha Dam and a new license for Glines Canyon dam; (2) passage of the Elwha Act and completion of required EISs (1991-1996); and (3) continued community and Congressional debate about implementing the dam removal option (1994-2000). The dissertation concluded that the restoration program for the Elwha River reflects the development of strong political coherence both within and across each of these periods. During the process of developing political coherence, stakeholders construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct their ideas about how things are, how they should be, and perhaps most importantly how they could be. The development of political coherence mandates public discourse; requires stakeholders to examine their basic assumptions; shifts understandings of central ideas and concepts; and moves participants, of necessity, into collaborative learning as a precursor to collaborative decision-making. The findings suggest that the long time frame associated with the planned Elwha dam removals can be understood as involving distinct learning and deliberating processes that will enrich the final outcome for the river, its fisheries, and its watershed.