Trading off: the ecological effects of dam removal

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Abstract

Dam removal is gaining credibility as a viable management option for dams that have deteriorated physically and are no longer economically practical. However, the decision to remove or repair a dam is often contentious and emotionally charged. Part of the acrimony arises from our limited scientific knowledge of the effects of dam removal. We believe that the ecological consequences are best understood by viewing the removal process as a disturbance. Ecological outcomes will include changes that are both environmentally costly, such as invasion of exotic species, and environmentally beneficial, such as increasing access to spawning habitats for migratory fish. It has also become apparent that the wholesale aging of the US dam infrastructure will make dam removal even more common in the future. The challenge ahead is to better understand and manage the consequences of these removals.

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