Rising From the Ashes – Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited

Trout Unlimited, Wild Steelheaders United and North Fork Studios release new film on remarkable rebound of summer run steelhead in the Elwha River

SEATTLE (April 20, 2020)—Summer run wild steelhead were thought to be extirpated from Washington’s Elwha River. But after two dams were removed, the rapid rebound of this unique life history of steelhead surprised scientists and has provided hope for recovery of wild steelhead—which
in other watersheds.

Trout Unlimited, Wild Steelheaders United, and North Fork Studios have launched a new film, Rising from the Ashes, on the resurgence of summer steelhead in Washington’s Elwha River via YouTube.

“The Elwha is basically a living laboratory for what happens when you take out dams in a river that has native salmon, steelhead and trout,” said John McMillan, science director for TU’s Wild Steelhead Initiative. “But there is one life history of fish in the Elwha that really is a remarkable story, and that is summer run steelhead. They’re like the Phoenix, rising from the ashes.”

The Elwha River is the site of the largest dam removal project yet undertaken in North America. For more than a century two dams completely blocked upstream migration of anadromous salmon, steelhead and char.

While the rebound of salmon and winter run steelhead in the Elwha after the dams were taken out was anticipated, the recovery of summer run steelhead was not. But taking out the dams changed their prospects—dramatically. Over the past two years, scientific surveys relying primarily on snorkeling throughout the river revealed a significant rebound in summer steelhead numbers.

Trout Unlimited and Wild Steelheaders United hired noted documentary filmmaker and devoted steelhead angler Shane Anderson to record the amazing recovery of summer run steelhead in the Elwha. Rising from the Ashes is the result.

“After spending the past decade documenting river and fish stories across the West, this was by far the most inspirational, magical and painful assignment I’ve done,” said Shane Anderson, owner of the North Fork Studios film production company. “I’ve spent time on the Elwha my entire life, making this comeback story really hit home for me and giving me a tremendous amount of hope during very challenging times for our fish, rivers and environment.”

Rising from the Ashes records the work of some of the leading players in the collaborative effort between resource agencies, Tribes, and conservation groups to monitor the recovery of salmon and steelhead and the Elwha. What they found, after undertaking a snorkel survey of the entire mainstem river in September of 2019, is remarkable. The film also provides insight into the benefits of removing dams from rivers for other species, and for the ecology of the watershed as a whole.

The film’s release has been supported by a series of Live events on Trout Unlimited’s Instagram feed this week. Go here for a recording of Wild Steelheaders United ambassador Lee Geist’s interview with John McMillan about the resurgence of summer steelhead in the Elwha.

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