January 4, 2021 |Brad Meiklejohn

How Alaska Restored Salmon to the Native Eklutna

Built in the 1920s, the Eklutna Dam originally supplied hydroelectric power to the city of Anchorage. But by the 1950s, it was already decommissioned. For decades, the infrastructure and its sediment filled the reservoir, blocked native salmon runs, destroyed habitat, and led to a drastic decline in the fish population. The Conservation Fund partnered with the Alaska Native Village of Eklutna to remove the dam, and in 2018, the last piece was finally removed.

Removing the Eklutna Dam was easily the highwater mark of my 30-year conservation career. We have done a lot of good here since I helped open the Alaska office in 1994, but nothing else has generated anything close to the excitement, attention and eagerness to help that we found on this dam project. This project united people across all boundaries and persuasions to the task of fixing a broken river. People love fixing things, and especially now there is a thirst for helping nature in real, tangible ways. When I first raised the idea of removing the Eklutna Dam in 2014 the task seemed impossible. Honestly, I didn’t know anything about the logistics of removing a dam, but it seemed like the right idea because the more I talked about it the more excited others got.

I have learned about the resilience of people and salmon from this work on the Eklutna. The Eklutna Dena’ina Native people and the Pacific salmon they once relied on have endured a lot of difficulty over the past one hundred years. Despite the odds, the Eklutna Dena’ina and the salmon have managed to survive, and now we are seeing a simultaneous resurgence of Native culture and salmon. The Eklutna Dena’ina are deeply engaged in the river restoration work, and the salmon have responded by moving up past the old dam site to spawn during the fall of 2020—for the first time in 90 years.

This short film details the story of our partnership with the Alaska Native Village of Eklutna and the Dena’ina to remove the deadbeat dam. The result is a triumph for nature and the Native people.

Written by

Brad Meiklejohn

Brad Meiklejohn is a Senior Representative at The Conservation Fund, where he has worked to protect the Alaskan wilderness for the past quarter century. Brad managed the five-year dam removal project on the Eklutna River in Southcentral Alaska from conception to its final deconstruction.