Elwha

 

By Rob Masonis

I never imagined that 4-inch grey cores composed of cement and aggregate could be so highly prized.

But these particular cores – which were part of a dam on the Elwha River blocking some of the best salmon and steelhead habitat in the United States for 100 years—were snapped-up quickly by attendees of Trout Unlimited’s annual gathering of its western grassroots leaders in Spokane this past Saturday.

The dam is now gone and salmon and steelhead are now reclaiming the habitat from which they had been excluded for a century.

The story of the massive Elwha River restoration effort has received significant media coverage since the dam removal commenced in September 2011. But I want to briefly share another story about the man who drove the core samples from Seattle to Spokane in the back of his Chevy pick-up—Bill Robinson.  Bill has been a TU member since the 1970s, and for 25 years invested time and energy to restore the Elwha River to its free-flowing state.

While Bill’s tireless advocacy took many forms over the years, probably his greatest work was convening a local citizen advisory council in the 1990s with another TU member, Joe Mentor. Bill and Joe formed the council and invited local participation because they believed that local buy-in was critical if the Elwha and its magnificent salmon and steelhead were to be restored.

And they were right. After the local citizens’ council was presented with the facts and diverse perspectives, they came out in support of restoring the Elwha to its free-flowing state and allowing salmon and steelhead to recolonize the basin. The politicians then quickly fell in line and the path to dam removal was cleared. Today, engaging local citizens in conservation decisions that directly affect their lives is how we do business at TU.

So here’s to you, Mr. Robinson, for demonstrating both the importance of grassroots advocacy and the power of local engagement in conservation decisions. The salmon and steelhead that, today, are spawning in habitat in the Elwha basin for the first time in 100 years are a tribute to your vision and persistence. And the coming generations of anglers who will get the chance to pursue them will forever be in your debt.

Rob Masonis is the vice president for Western Conservation at Trout Unlimited.

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