Olympic Peninsula culverts

Removing culverts to protect Tribal fishing rights

About the Project

The rivers of the Olympic Peninsula are salmon strongholds—they currently hold the most abundant and diverse wild populations of salmon, trout, and char in the contiguous United States. Located in a remote region with little development pressure and cold water assured from the high-elevation Olympic Mountains, these rivers hold the promise of salmon swimming freely a century from now.

Despite promising conditions for survival, salmonids are currently blocked from reaching high-quality spawning and rearing habitat. The problem is not dams, but culverts, which often look like wide pipes built into the ground to allow a stream to pass under the road. These narrow passages can be treacherous for fish, especially during high-flow events. Though small in size, these barriers add up to a big problem: there are more than 500 culverts impeding fish passage in the Olympic Peninsula.

In what has become known as the “culverts case,” federal court decisions set in motion a multi-billion dollar, multi-decade effort in the State of Washington to protect Tribal treaty rights and bring back Pacific Coast salmon by removing road culverts and barriers that block habitat.

The Coast Salmon Partnership is coordinating an effort of four Tribes—Quileute Tribe, Hoh Tribe, Makah Tribe, and Quinault Indian Nation—counties, several federal and state agencies, and environmental organizations to remove the highest priority culverts and secure funding for the effort. With the development of a decision support tool, the groups identified 83 high-priority culvert barriers whose removal or remediation would open 124 miles of habitat (42 percent of the total). Engineering and design of the first set of  priority culvert projects began in 2021, to prepare to compete for public funding in Washington’s 2023-2025 biennial budget.

Owner: Various
Size: Mixed
Project Cost: $65 million
ORF Investment: Inventory, prioritization, outreach, design, engineering, construction
Miles Opened: 124 miles
Fish: Chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon; chum; steelhead, bull, and coastal cutthroat trout
Status: Design and engineering beginning in 2021

  • Open 124 river miles of high-quality spawning and rearing habitat
  • Support cultural values, treaty rights, and economic opportunities for the Makah Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Hoh Tribe, and Quinault Indian Nation
  • Improve recreational access to Olympic National Park
  • Create over 200 local jobs in depressed local economies
  • Develop an innovative decision support tool that will serve as a model for optimized culvert replacement and potentially other salmon restoration activities
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Project Partners

Makah Tribe

Quileute Tribe

Hoh Tribe

Quinault Indian Nation

Coast Salmon Partnership

Trout Unlimited

Wild Salmon Center

Paul G. Allen Foundation

The Nature Conservancy

National Park Service

U.S. Forest Service

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Washington Department of Transportation

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor Counties

City of Forks