Last fall, engineers in Washington breached a dam on the Elwha River in hopes that populations of trout and steelhead would return to the waterway.

A few weeks ago, they did. From the Los Angeles Times:

Biologists John McMillan of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Raymond Moses, a Nez Perce working for the local Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, were checking one day in June on the steelhead they had tagged and planted in a pristine tributary above the old dam. In that tributary, known as Little River, they saw several of the fish they had transported with hopes the fish would spawn. And then they saw something else.

It was a male steelhead, about 5 pounds bigger than any of the 60 fish they had tagged and planted. It bore nothing to suggest it was anything but a wild fish that had, of its own accord, discovered new territory.

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“Ray and I instantly realized he had no floy tag, no radio tag, and we knew from its size it was obviously something that had made its way on its own past the dam,” McMillan said this week.

A section of the Elwha Dam comes down.

The discovery isn’t entirely a surprise: On the day the dam was breached, McMillan saw wild salmon swimming at its base. But the speed with which the steelhead appeared — along with a clutch of steelhead eggs — took the scientists by surprise.

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Officials decided to remove the dam in part because it had outlived its purpose. It had once provided electricity for nearby mills, which are now closed. It’s good to know that at least fish are doing okay in the down economy.

A steelhead trout leaps upstream. (Photo by ajburcar.)