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Brian Winter: Persistence Pays Off in Long Fight To Restore a River

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Brian D. Winter never thought one project would set the tone for his entire career. Winter is the National Park Service's lead on the largest-ever dam-removal and river-restoration project in the U.S. The 57-year-old has been involved with the Elwha River, which lies mostly within Washington's Olympic National Park, for nearly three decades.

Patrick Crain, the park's chief fisheries biologist, says Winter's consistency and ability to balance an extremely long list of stakeholders has been key. "Brian has always been well prepared for the topic of the day, and he has impressed me with his commitment to seeing the Elwha project through," Crain says.


Brian Krohmer, lead for dam-removal contractor Barnard Construction Co., says Winter is the type of owner representative who embraces "cooperative partnerships" that streamline operations.

Winter says there was a healthy amount of opposition to the project when, in 1985, he started working on it for the Elwha Tribe. When he joined the National Park Service, he tried to make sure all stakeholders understood his role of mitigation in relation to dam removal and resource restoration.

"The challenges for this project have been the partnerships created for the park service to complete a project where they didn't have specific authority outside our borders," he says. "We needed to negotiate our mitigation components, and along the way there were all sorts of politics before this was in fact a funded project."

Winter focused on mitigation until September 2011, when the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams started to come out and the river-restoration effort picked up. He turned his attention to the fish, which delighted the biologist in him.

"The fish are showing us that if we take dams out, the fish can respond very quickly," he says.

With construction winding down early this year, Winter will focus on the final stage: biology.

"Success, for me, has always been defined as restoration of natural ecosystem processes," Winter remarks. "It may or may not go precisely as planned, but over time the ecosystem will respond positively."


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