Freeing the Elwha: Social Studies Unit 3

Elwha Debate

Lesson 5 - Good Intentions

Guiding Question: How did an 1881 law in Washington interfere with the support of the building of the Elwha Dam and what was the consequence for salmon? What did the building of the dam do for the economy of the Port Angeles area?

Lesson Overview: The Territory of Washington code of 1881 made it a crime for anyone to obstruct the passage of salmon in any waterway. When Thomas Aldwell built the lower Elwha Dam in 1912 it became clear during construction that the dam was an impediment to salmon. Aldwell failed to include a fish ladder or passage as required by law making the Elwha Dam an illegal dam. In 1913 Washington State fish commissioner, Leslie Darwin, found a loop hole in the 1881 law that allowed the Elwha Dam to function legally. In this lesson, students will read about the loop hole and the subsequent repeal of the 1881 law and its replacement by a 1914 law that allowed below dam hatcheries to be built instead of waterways. The Elwha Dam is important in that it set a precedent for dams in Washington. The students will then compare the early economic gain from the dam to the Olympic Peninsula in the form of hydropower with the loss of the salmon and write an editorial for The Port Angeles Evening News either supporting the dam or supporting the salmon.

Time: Two block class periods


Lesson 6 - A Long and Difficult Process

Guiding Question: It would be nice if a few sticks of dynamite could quickly remove a dam, but there are many big issues involved in dam removal, what are those issues and how do they relate to the Elwha River dam removal project?

Overview: In this lesson, students working in four groups will use Exploring Dam Removal: A Decision Making Guide, a web document published by American Rivers and Trout Unlimited, to research one of four issues involved in dam removal as it relates to the Elwha River. The students will synthesize their research for presentation to the class.

Time: Two - three block class periods.


Lesson 7 - Should the Dams on the Elwha be Removed? A Classroom Debate

Guiding Question: Dams have been useful to human populations in providing water and energy for development of wilderness areas. Should dams that have outlived their use be removed in order to enhance the sustainability of natural and human communities?

Lesson Overview: For this lesson, we direct you to The American Field Guide at: They have built a fantastic lesson plan for the debate over the removal of the dams on the Elwha River.


Lesson 8 - Salmon the Life Giving Gift

Guiding Question: Salmon play a crucial role in the lives of Pacific Northwest Native people. How are salmon truly the "life giving gift'' to the Elwha River and the Klallam People that live along its banks?

Lesson Overview: Students will be given a handout to read which includes an Introduction, an account by a Salmon Priest of the Skagit River, and two legends. Students will examine the two stories for the themes of greed, sacrifice and renewal. They will then investigate the relationship of the Klallam Tribe to the salmon of the Elwha River before the dams were built and after the dams were built. Students will organize information into a chart. Using the information they have gathered from the stories and on their chart, students will use the writing process to compose their own story about how the salmon returned to the Elwha River.

Time: Two Block Class Periods



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