Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Columbia Land Trust Celebrate Launch of Kwoneesum Dam Removal Project


Dam Removal Project Will Restore Fish Passage and Improve Ecosystem on Key Washougal River Tributary Cowlitz Tribe To Lead Removal Efforts on Land Conserved by Columbia Land Trust

Washougal, WA, May 14, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — On Friday, May 10th, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Columbia Land Trust held a ceremony celebrating the pending removal of the Kwoneesum Dam at the headwaters of Wildboy Creek in Skamania County, Washington. After years of meticulous planning and close collaboration, the removal process is now underway to restore fish passage to key spawning habitat within the Washougal River watershed and improve a critical natural ecosystem within the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s ancestral lands. A traditional tribal blessing of the site was held when the planning process for the project began in 2021.

The Kwoneesum Dam, first built in 1965 by the Camp Fire Girls organization for recreational purposes, stands at 55-feet tall by 425-feet wide and currently blocks all fish passage to 6.5 miles of spawning and rearing habitat in a headwater tributary of the Washougal River, while holding back valuable sediment and wood to starved channels downstream. Its removal will immediately restore fish passage and enhance instream conditions, benefiting coho salmon and summer steelhead – species sacred to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s ancestral heritage and way of life.


Patty Kinswa Gaiser, Chairwoman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and Meg Rutledge, Executive Director of Columbia Land Trust, spoke to a crowd of project partners and elected officials representing the state of Washington about the importance of the project and the shared vision that brought the two organizations together. 

“Today marks a pivotal moment as we begin the journey to remove the Kwoneesum Dam,” said Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, Cowlitz Indian Tribe General Council Chairwoman. “This project holds deep significance, not only for the benefits it will bring to our environment and fish species, but for the preservation of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s cultural heritage as well. By restoring fish passage and nurturing the ecosystem within the Washougal River watershed, we’re honoring our ancestors, while improving the health of a river system that our Tribe, our community, and our region depends on. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is grateful for Columbia Land Trust standing alongside us in this shared vision, rooted in respect for our land, our shared resources, and our traditions.” 

“Columbia Land Trust conserves and cares for the vital lands, waters, and communities of the lower Columbia River region,” said Columbia Land Trust Executive Director Meg Rutledge. “Removing Kwoneesum Dam, which has long lost its original purpose, lives into our core values. Restoring these streams to run wild, honors the enduring cultural values of Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and benefits the Washougal River system through the animal, plants and people that depend on its intact ecology. Columbia Land Trust grounds all of our work in sound science and strong relationships. Bringing these values together in collaboration with Cowlitz Indian Tribe and their leadership is a proud moment for our organization.”


The Cowlitz Indian Tribe and its ancestors have sustained the land, rivers, and resources of present-day Southwest Washington for time immemorial — including the lands within the Wildboy Forest. For generations, the natural resources of Washougal watershed – from sacred salmon and steelhead species to first foods and medicines – have provided the foundation for the Cowlitz way of life, its teachings, traditional practices, and cultural heritage.

In 1965, the Camp Fire organization built Kwoneesum Dam at the confluence of three creeks to create a recreational lake for a new girls’ camp. Girls from across the region spent summers swimming, sailing, and canoeing there until the mid-1980s, when the camp closed, and the land was sold to an industrial timber company. Despite its scenic appearance, the stagnant lake absorbs sunlight and increases water temperature, which can be fatal to adult and juvenile salmon and steelhead.

After being managed for forestry, the land was again put up for sale in 2019. Cowlitz Indian Tribe staff saw a crucial opportunity and alerted Columbia Land Trust, who raised funds and purchased the 1,300-acre site in 2020, conserving the land and embarking on a collaborative effort to remove the dam and revitalize the Washougal River watershed.

 In addition to benefiting fish species, the Kwoneesum Dam removal partnership will also allow the Tribe to apply its traditional knowledge and land management practices as this vital ecosystem recovers, ensuring sacred plants and species are protected and managed in a manner that respects our cultural values and practices.  

“This location once had a splash dam, used to transport Yacolt Burn logs to lumber mills downstream, then it was replaced with the Kwoneesum Dam in 1965. The Wildboy Creek watershed and the remnant stocks of steelhead and coho have endured these effects for well over a century,” said Pete Barber, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s Habitat Restoration  Program Manager and lead for the dam removal project. “Removing this manmade obstruction will restore natural processes, fish access and give the creek an opportunity to recover.”


The land purchase was funded with grants from the Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, as well as funding from Washington Department of Ecology’s water quality program, Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, Wiancko Family Foundation, The Conservation Alliance, private donors, a program-related investment loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Pacific Northwest Resilient Landscapes Initiative with support from the Land Trust Alliance, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and Oregon Community Foundation.

The dam removal was funded by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service – Environmental Quality Incentives Program, NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office – Salmon Recovery Funding Board & Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board, Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund , Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Additional Details

As an embankment dam, the removal process will occur after the 104 acre-feet of water in the reservoir has been removed, with construction taking place over the summer and expected to conclude this fall.

 Once the dam has been removed, additional restoration and native planting activities will begin within the nine-acre reservoir footprint. A half-mile of Wildboy Creek channel downstream of the dam will have hundreds of logs anchored to bedrock and covered with rock and gravel to restore the degraded streambed. Additionally, three new tributary channels will be built from native material excavated and stockpiled from the initial reservoir excavation, dating back to 1965.

For public safety, the forest and dam area are closed to the public during construction, dam removal, and initial restoration efforts, but ultimately, the Land Trust plans for the land to be open to the public for non-motorized, non-overnight activities.

Photo Assets

  • Pictures from the celebration event on May 10, 2024 can be found here.
  • Historic photos from Nancy King of the Camp Fire Organization can be found here.
  • Additional high-res photos of Kwoneesum Dam can be available upon request.

About Cowlitz Indian Tribe
We, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, are the Forever People. Since the beginning of time, we have nurtured our community by stewarding our lands and rivers, investing in our people and culture, and promoting self-determination and prosperity for future generations. Our mission is to preserve and honor the legacy of our elders and ancestors by empowering a tribal community that promotes social justice and economic well-being, secures aboriginal lands, respects culture and sovereignty, and fosters justice, freedom, and mutual welfare. More information can be found at

About Columbia Land Trust
Columbia Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that conserves and cares for the vital lands, waters, and wildlife of the lower Columbia River region, through sound science and strong relationships. Since 1991 the Land Trust has conserved more than 58,000 acres of land in Oregon and Washington to enhance communities, ecosystems, and connections with nature.

CONTACT: Austin Hicks Cowlitz Indian Tribe [email protected] Kelsey Farabee Columbia Land Trust [email protected] 

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