March 30, 2012 at 7:00 AM
When he worked at The Seattle Times, former staff photographer Tom Reese took some of the most evocative and sensitive photos made at the newspaper of the natural world. I still remember his patience in the Hoh Rain Forest, spending an entire afternoon with me for a story on big leaf maples, getting just the right slant of light through the moss-padded trees, or the gilded glide of an autumn leaf, kiting to ground.
Gifted as he is at photographing Washington’s beautiful places, he captures Washington’s suffering landscapes with singular artfulness.
Since he has left the paper, Reese has done some remarkable independent work on the Duwamish, where his photos invite consideration, appreciation and wonder in a place so often overlooked as a trashed and forgotten landscape. Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish is the subject of his powerful photo essay at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
Copyright Tom Reese
Consuming, and Paying the Price: Despite progress cleaning up the Duwamish, garbage, toxics in storm water runoff, and industrial pollution still find their way into the river every day.
The exhibit opens April 5, 5-7:30 p.m. and runs through July 8.
Here’s Tom on what fuels his ongoing attention to the Duwamish as a subject, from my interview with him this week:
March 26, 2012 at 6:24 PM
From Oregon sunshine, a sweet-faced, yellow aster, to noble Doug firs
and red cedars, new plantings are standing dutifully at attention in
the gray ground that sweeps for hundreds of acres along the Elwha River. The newly emerged landscape was inundated for 100 years behind Elwha Dam, and since 1926 behind Glines Canyon Dam.
Just a portion of the 800 acres yet to be exposed as the reservoirs drop, the landscape that wraps the river as it finds it channel is just beginning to define itself.
As the reservoirs drop, they leave terraces of sediment notched by the receding water levels.
To fend off an invasion of weeds, and help stabilize the soil and ultimately, restore natural processes in this river valley, the National Park Service as part of the Elwha restoration project has launched a $4.1 million replanting project for the lands exposed as the reservoirs drain.
It’s a dramatic landscape, changing by the hour. Canyons open up without warning, where seeps find the soft, unconsolidated sediments left behind the dwindling reservoirs.
Canyons gape wide where seeps find their way across the deltas to the river
Last week, the chilly spring wind whipped the bare, brave stems and
shoots planted bare root by crews from last November until early March. It was hard to imagine what would come next. Buds and leaves? Or
a quick end after a short life in the park service’s greenhouse?
“We will let the landscape teach us what will grow where,” said Josh Chenoweth, botanical restorationist for the park service as we toured some of the planting sites last week. No sentimentalist, him.
It’s tough out there: Wind buffets new plantings sunk in sand. The question is what will live and what will perish in such a harsh environment. The replanting effort in the Elwha is without precedent.
Deer and elk are already checking out the new plantings.
Already making a strong showing, though, was Epilobium, whose species
name means unpretentious, without boasting, or adornment. Fitting for
this low growing, unremarkable, hard-working plant, a native weed
already taking a stand.
One of the challenges is going to be browsing by deer and elk. As this footprint shows, they are already cruising the landscape, checking out the bottomlands finally returned to them from the floodwaters of the reservoirs.
Photos by Lynda V. Mapes
March 20, 2012 at 4:32 PM
Spring arrived in the Olympics today with a soft dusting of snow in the high country at Olympic National Park. A nice howler of a low pressure system arrived along with the new season, giving the landscape a good blast of wind, rain and snow. A meteorological spring cleaning of sorts.
Snow dusts the Olympics on the first day of spring. Note the milky color of the Elwha River in the foreground, caused by high sediment loads as contractors tear down Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam. I took this photo at the Olympic Hot Springs Road, on the river between the two dams.
But snow or not, the lengthening days signal fat city. From now until the summer solstice in June, we’ll have more and more daylight to savor. The lengthening days already have cued plants and animals that set their seasonal clocks to daylight length to undergo all manner of changes to commence their reproductive season.
Crows can be seen all over Seattle breaking sticks with their beaks and feet, to construct nests. A pair has been working hard in the maple tree across the street from my house, tugging at twigs, dropping them to the ground, then spiriting them up and away to their secret nest site. Secret, that is, until the squawks of their offspring broadcast to the whole neighborhood that they must and shall be fed.
Native plants have been budding and flowering for some time. Among the very first of them every year are the delicate Indian plums, with their pendant white flowers.
Steve Ringman photographed this Indian plum in its fresh spring greenery on the banks of the Elwha River Monday.
Indian plums are like phenology clocks: to observe them is to know the progression of the season more reliably than a glance at the calendar. Their upright new leaves, clasped like praying hands when they first unfurl, gradually relax their posture as the leaves grow. The dangling white blossom slowly forms a fruit that will be a hard, yellow knob by fall.
March 16, 2012 at 3:02 PM
At 7:30 Friday morning, contractors started shifting the Elwha River back into its natural channel. Within four to five days, the river will be fully back in its native channel — for the first time in a century.
Within four to five weeks, the final draw down of Lake Aldwell, the reservoir behind Elwha Dam, will also be complete — and the dam, and its reservoir, will be history.
Contractors began taking down two dams on the Elwha River last September to restore the river and watershed.The restoration project is way ahead of schedule.
The two dams generated hydropower for the industrialization of the Olympic Peninsula, particularly the development of lumber, pulp, and paper mills. But the dams were built without fish passage.
With Elwha Dam completely gone as soon as April, fall chinook salmon — the fabled Elwha Tyee — could make it all the way back to Glines Canyon Dam this migration season for the first time since the river was impounded beginning in 1910.
The big chinook usually start entering the river in July and have been seen holding in a pool at the foot of Elwha dam, blocked in their migration, ever since the river was dammed. But this year, the fish will regain an additional eight miles of mainstem spawning ground. Work on dam removal will be stopped while the fish migration is underway.
When both dams are out. they will regain the entire river, some 70 miles of spawning habitat, 83 percent of it permanently protected within Olympic National Park and never developed.
Barb Maynes, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park, said Glines Canyon Dam could be down ahead of schedule, too. Once forecast to take up to three years, nobody thinks the dam removal project will take that long anymore. Glines may be gone as soon as June of 2013.
Meanwhile, revegetation work on the deltas behind the dams is over for the year, with some 30,000 native plants planted.
The replanting is an effort to get ahead of the weeds that could otherwise take over the extensive sediment deltas exposed as the reservoirs drain.
Monitoring of out-migrating smolts, or baby salmon by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe so far shows that the young fish headed to salt water this season have been unaffected by elevated levels of sediment in the river, said Mike McHenry, habitat biologist for the tribe. Chinook, chum, and pink salmon found in the smolt trap maintained in the lower river by the tribe all look normal, McHenry said.
“So far, so good,” he said. “But the real impacts are yet to come.”
As reservoir levels continue to drop, and the Elwha works its bed to which it was just returned, sediment levels are expected to increase, McHenry said.
For more on the restoration project, history of the dams, revegetation and sediment management, see our special project in the Seattle Times.
To watch dam removal as it happens, take a look at the National Park Service web cams.
The photos show you, in part, what it takes to take down a dam:
Top photo: Used bit, dull from chiseling down Elwha and Glines Canyon Dam. Courtesy, National Park Service
Bottom photo: New bit. Ready for action. Courtesy, National Park Service
March 15, 2012 at 9:50 AM
The repairs to the Whiskey Bend Road in Olympic National Park will be complete two weeks early, and the road re-opened to vehicles as of tomorrow, March 16.
Great news, because that’s the main access to the trailhead to the wonderland of the Geyser Valley. The 4.5 mile gravel road connects the Olympic Hot Springs Road to the Whiskey Bend trailhead.
Better yet, the Upper Lake Mills Trail and Upper Lake Aldwell are also re-opened to the public after closure during the ongoing dam removal project. Now’s the time to put on the muck boots and head out to see the astonishing transformation of this landscape, where the reservoirs are draining to reveal the river meandering through vast deltas of sediment impounded behind the dams.
The Upper Lake Mills Trail begins near the Whiskey Bend trailhead and once led to the southern end of the Lake Mils reservoir. Not anymore. WIth 60 feet of the 210-foot high Glines Canyon Dam gone and the reservoir significantly lower, the trail provides hiking access to explore the changing landscape.
From the fantastic to the just plain strange, the delta and re-emerging river are worth seeing — and hearing. Be ready for soft unstable spots, steep banks and deep mud. Use common sense and dress appropriately — boots essential, and bring the camera. You will be a witnessing history as the landscape changes before your eyes.
A stump wears a sediment hat, left behind as the reservoir behind Elwha Dam drains. The trees around the river were logged off in preparation for filling the reservoir back when the dam was built in 1910. Built to generate hydropower, the dam had no fish passage. (Photo / John Gussman)
Watch out, while you are at it, for the 30,000 some odd native plants that have been planted to spur revegetation.
For the big picture, here is a before and after of the area above Elwha Dam by photographer John Gussman, who is making a documentary about the restoration of the Elwha. From the overlook motorists whiz by on Route 101 headed out of Port Angeles toward Forks, a new world is revealed:
The overlook from Route 101, before and after the start of dam removal. In the top photo, Lake Aldwell — the reservoir behind Elwha Dam — is full and fat in February, 2008, before the start of dam removal. In the lower photograph, taken on February 23, 2012, the river meanders through the sediment delta revealed as the reservoir dropped. Dam removal began last September and is expected to be completed within three years. Photographs by John Gussman
To learn more about the dam removal project, including the management of the sediment behind the dams and revegetation effort, see our special project in the Seattle Times.
You can also check in on the dam removal project on the park service web cams.
If you go: here’s the link for trail conditions. It was snow free mid-week.
For some more of Gussman’s amazing photos of the deltas, have a look at these links of photos taken at former Lake Aldwell
Foot access to the former Lake Aldwell is available by using the Lake Aldwell Road, turning left just west of the Elwha River bridge on SR 101.
The Upper Lake Mills Trail begins near the Whiskey Bend trailhead. To get there, continue on SR 101 past the turn off for SR 112, Turn left on Olympic Hot Springs Road and continue past the Elwha Ranger station. Turn left on Whiskey Bend Road, and follow to the trail head.
March 10, 2012 at 7:00 AM
Demolition work on Elwha Dam has knocked and clawed the obstruction that has blocked the Elwha’s flow since 1910 nearly out of the river. This dam, illegally built even back then with no fish passage, is nearly history.
PHOTO / NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
In the photo on the left, the wood showing on the sides is what remains of the timbers used to frame concrete forms to build the dam back in 1910.
Glines Canyon dam, just upriver and twice as high, still has lots left to go.
Work will continue on Elwha Dam too, as the contractor hired by the National Park Service keeps chipping away, literally. But crews working on Elwha Dam are almost to the original river bed and will soon be guiding the river back into its natural channel there … perhaps as soon as this today.
Over the next several weeks, flows in the river are going to increase as the dams continue to come out. Then, during the week of March 19, there will be a two-week pause in the action to let the river catch up with the sediment stuck behind the dams that the river is rinsing out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
By now, the level of the water impounded behind what’s left of Elwha Dam is only 49 feet higher than the river bed at the dam site. That’s less the half of what it used to be.
Here are some more dramatic before and afters from John Gussman, the Sequim photographer making a documentary film about the Elwha’s restoration.
Elwha Dam … going, going, almost gone. Top photo taken on Aug. 11, 2011. Bottom photo taken March 5, 2012.
For more on his film project — and more amazing Elwha photos and videos, take a look at his website.
Just as amazing are Gussman’s photos of the revegetation effort on the landscape exposed by the draining reservoirs. Take a look at the work underway he photographed above Elwha Dam this week.
To learn about the scope of this unprecedented revegatation mission, intended to beat out invasive weeds, read my story in The Seattle TImes. There also is a cool interactive graphic on our Elwha project web site about the seeds and native plants being used in the restoration.
And finally, here’s a the big picture. Epic views of a legendary wilderness valley.
These aerial photos were taken by Tom Roorda , with a gopro camera mounted to the tail wheel of his small plane. Roorda’s buddy Gussman stitched the panarama together, showing the Olympic Mountains (looking east) on a glorious day earlier this week.
Mount Olympus …f rom Tom Roorda’s Olympian viewpoint. Photo by Tom Roorda
March 9, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Sure, we all are in love with Sekiu, the baby sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium. Here she is playing with ice and growing nice and big, in some recent videos from the Seattle Aquarium’s blog.
But as usual the Seattle/Tacoma rivalry brings us some stiff competition from down south: Not one, but two baby clouded leopards born at the Point Defiance Zoo this week. Here they are on video.
For more on the baby clouded leopards, check out the zoo’s website. The male and female cubs will be on view in a few weeks.
A healthy pair of clouded leopards were born March 6 at the Point Defiance Zoo. At birth, each weighed only about 8 ounces. Good looking claws!
March 5, 2012 at 7:00 AM
A wide variety of animals travel the I-90 corridor, such as this black bear.
Photo courtesy Western Transportation Institute
Sponsored by Western Transportation Institute and the I-90 Wilidlife Bridges Coalition and other partners, the survey is intended to better understand the animals using the corridor between North Bend and Easton. Motorists were asked to count any wildlife they see — dead or alive — and report it for the survey, launched in November 2010.
Elk are one of the most frequently seen animals in the I-90 corridor — and one of the most dangerous to encounter in a collision. Crossing structures under construction on I-90 will make the highway safer for animals and drivers. Photo courtesy Western Transportation Institute
The results were encouraging in this respect: Motorists saw a wide variety of wildlife, from turkeys to skunks to elk. And most of the sightings were of live animals, not roadkill.
Coyotes were seen by many drivers. Photo courtesy Western Transportation Institute
In its first 12 months, the website received 6,821 visits from all 50 states in the U.S., and 29 other countries. The vast majority of visits (83%) originated in Washington. Visitors reported 240 valid (i.e., presumed authentic) wildlife sightings made in the survey area during the first year, comprising a total of 529 live and dead animals. Sightings included both mammals and birds, with deer and elk dominating the mammals list. Of 475 mammals reported, 423 were alive and 52 were dead.
Most of the animals reported by drivers were seen alive. Photo courtesy Western Transportation Initiative
To participate in the survey yourself, check out this link. The survey will continue for at least another year.
March 2, 2012 at 7:00 AM
Spring is less than a month away, and with it comes the delight of the annual shorebird migration. Washington’s Coast is a major stop on the Pacific flyway, and one way to learn about this annual migratory miracle is a shorebird class offered by Eastside Audubon.
The class is suitable for beginners who just want to get more out of a visit to the coast.
Which ones are playing tag with the waves? Those are sanderlings.
Which ones zip back and forth, keeping their distance? Those are the plovers.
Instructor Tim Boyer is a shorebird expert and a professional photographer who can help you learn how to tell shorebirds apart.
Classroom sessions are in Kirkland on Tuesday evenings, March 20 and 27, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church, 308 4th Avenue South, Kirkland.
Classroom instruction will be followed by a full day field trip to the Washington Coast on March 31 or April 1. Details will be decided during the classroom meetings.
Fees for the class are $60 for Eastside Audubon members and $80 for non-members. Carpool costs are additional. For just the classroom lectures, fees are $40 for members and $55 for non-members. Class size is limited to 16 participants and registration is open at 425-576-8805 or by email: email@example.com
For more information, go to: Shorebird identification.
Now is also the time to mark your calendar for the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, coming up in May.