Friday, August 11, 2006


Klamath River May Have Chance

The following is long. If you don’t want to read it, OK, but it’s important...especially if the future of nature is a concern.

The Klamath River, like the Rogue River, the Columbia, Frasier, Sacramento, and countless other rivers once were filled with millions of salmon. They aren’t any more. The salmon survive only with a great deal of life-support. It isn’t just commercial fishing that threatens their existence: it’s logging, farming, pollution, dams, and all the other benefits of modern American society. The people who depended on the salmon—for thousands of years—are as endangered as the fish themselves. It’s time to make some major changes in the way we regard the situation. It’s time to yank out the big crippling dams. Maybe we won’t be able to run our air conditioners 24/7, but we went without for quite a while, and we can do it again.

The Klamath River Dispute

by Colin Miller

The Klamath River story of Northwestern California and Southern Oregon
is as tragic as it is convoluted, and the legal battles and controversy
surrounding it are as dirty and as overheated as the river itself.

Fishing rights' clash with aggressive farmers, and the conflict on the
Klamath has created a strange bedfellows alliance between commercial
fishermen and Native Americans. The two groups, normally opposed on
political grounds, have come together with environmentalists and
environmental justice groups in lawsuits filed against the U.S.
government for failing to adhere to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and
save the few remaining salmon. Each year, the populations of threatened
Chinook and endangered Coho salmon coming up the Klamath have dropped.

The conflict came to a dramatic head during a drought in 2001, when the
Bureau of Reclamation (the federal irrigation division responsible for
monitoring the water levels on the Klamath) opened the dam floodgates to
provide cool water for two species of suckerfish in Klamath Lake and for
the salmon that would be coming up for the fall runs. The farmers of
Southern Oregon were apoplectic at losing 75% of "their" water.
Incensed, the farmers filed a lawsuit and engaged in massive protests,
drawing the national spotlight in the months running up to Oregon
Republican Senator Gordon Smith's re-election campaign. Within months,
the water was turned back on for the farmers, despite the wealth of
scientific evidence documenting the salmons' tenuous position in a dying

By September of the following year, the catastrophic dimension of the
government's decision to allow irrigation was revealed. The 2002 salmon
harvest was tragically small. Approximately 80,000 salmon lay gasping
for breath on the banks of the Klamath, unable to reach their spawning
grounds alive. Since then, each year's salmon run has gone lower,
suffering from disease and high heat, pushing the "endangered" salmon
species near extinction and the "threatened" species closer to an
"endangered" listing. If Congressman Richard Pombo of California has his
way, the Endangered Species Act may yet be reformed and crippled to the
extent that the listings as they stand hold even less water, so to
speak, than they already do.

The impact on commercial fishermen of the North Coast, and indeed, for
salmon fishermen from Seattle to San Francisco, has been grave. Because
it is impossible to determine the origins of ocean-going salmon (which
always return to their birthplaces to spawn) the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated an extremely low allowable wild
salmon harvest, limited by the endangered salmon runs of the Klamath. As
hard as it has been for these fishermen, Indians of the Klamath have
been, and will continue to be hit the hardest, because of the
subsistence nature of the tribal fishery.

The Karuk people were once one of the wealthiest indigenous groups in
all of California. Today, the 4,000-member Karuk Nation is the
second-largest tribe in the state and one of the poorest. About 90% of
Karuk families in Siskiyou County live in extreme poverty. Historically,
the Karuk customarily ate more than 450 pounds of fish per person per
year, an average of 1.2 pounds per day, comprising 50% of their total
diet. Last year, the Karuk caught just 100 fish ?five pounds of fish per
person per year. Not only does this number mock the idea of
"subsistence" fishing, it doesn't even provide for their ceremonial
rites. Last year, the Karuk people bought Alaskan salmon.

While dam removal is fundamental to the pursuit of both justice and
sustainability, it resolves only one facet of a complex problem.
Incompatible extractive land-uses continue to cause disproportionately
negative impacts on the health and survival of both salmon and Klamath
Basin tribes. The Klamath Water Users Association, representing mostly
farming interests, contends that dams are actually serving to protect
salmons' health and the overall ecological well-being of the Klamath
River Basin, by allowing sediment, pesticides, and herbicides to
"settle" in reservoirs, rather than flowing freely into the river. These
claims could not be more misguided.

A combination of 55 agro-industrial chemicals used on farms upstream,
made more toxic to fish in their synergistic effects, combined with
extremely high water temperatures due to dams, are still finding their
way into the river in lethal quantities.

The tribes first sued PacifiCorp for a $1 billion in a Court of Federal
Claims, but their case was dismissed because the 1864 treaty
guaranteeing Klamath Basin Indians the "exclusive right of taking fish
in the streams and lakes" predates the existence of the company or its
dams! Failing that, in late 2002, they sought representation under
Earthjustice lawyer Kristine Boyles, together with a large group of
high-profile environmental groups to sue the Federal government for
failing to protect the endangered Coho salmon, and the threatened
Chinook salmon and bull trout. As expected, the Federal court threw the
case out, but Earthjustice appealed.

In October 2005, the Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court unexpectedly
overturned the Federal government's plan to "protect" Coho salmon by
providing status quo amounts of irrigation water to farmers for the next
decade. Unfortunately, the appeal derives the strength of its argument
entirely from its argument that the Bush Administration's plan for the
Klamath would violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Were the ESA to
be weakened, the Ninth Circuit decision could be repealed, bringing the
tribes to the next nationally-fought legislative battle. This battle
would be waged not just by indigenous advocacy and Environmental Justice
groups, but by mainstream environmentalists as well.

California Republican Congressman Richard Pombo has sponsored House
Resolution 3824, which the House subsequently approved. Should HR 3824
pass in the Senate, it would undermine the Endangered Species Act,
removing every restrictive provision and altering the system by forcing
taxpayers to reimburse would-be habitat-destroyers if they voluntarily
decided to protect endangered wildlife.

This bill would prove devastating to the future of the dwindling Klamath
River salmon population, which was once teeming with life. The future of
the Klamath River depends on prudent policy including dam removal and
meaningful agriculture reform. The Klamath River salmon run's alarmingly
small population is a warning of the river's poor health. The Klamath
has fueled culture, subsistence, and industry for millennia. It is up to
both the federal government and the people to determine that the day for
justice has finally come. Then, the salmon may finally return to their
ancestral home.

Feds declare fishery disaster
Salmon cutback - Congress is now clear to secure direct aid for affected fishermen and coastal businesses
Friday, August 11, 2006
The Oregonian

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez announced a long-awaited disaster declaration for salmon trollers in Oregon and California on Thursday -- a step that came with no money but increased chances for a congressional cash infusion.

The federal declaration marks only the second time that a formal commercial fishery failure declaration has come while the fishing season was still under way.

Gutierrez said it already was abundantly clear the salmon fleet and its coastal communities were suffering as a result of a broad fishing closure to protect weak salmon runs returning to the Klamath River.

When Congress reconvenes in September, it now can move forward with the Bush administration's backing to seek millions of dollars in direct aid to fishermen and coastal businesses hit by the 85 percent reduction in the length of the fishing season. Gutierrez blamed five years of drought for critical conditions in the Klamath, a river that originates in Oregon and spills into the Pacific Ocean in California.

"This is very good news," said U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. "What this does is put the ball in the court of Congress to come up with the money."

No one would speculate how much money could come from a gridlocked Congress, but the most credible estimates of need put the number at $30 million or more in Oregon and California. At least three bills seeking money for the fleet have failed to move through Congress.

Fishermen, who have received little in the way of assistance despite promises of help, greeted the news warily.

"It's a step in the right direction for us," said Kevin Bastien, a salmon troller from Newport who pilots the 40-foot fishing boat Gal. "Right now I'm tuna fishing to get by. It's going to be a tough year."

Trollers from central California to northern Oregon are being forced to drastically reduce their catch along a 700-mile stretch of coast so that fishery managers can protect dwindling runs of Klamath River salmon. Because the fish can be found in the ocean north and south of the mouth of the river in Northern California, fishery experts have reduced all fishing to minimize the catch. Despite record-high prices, the value of the landings is expected to be 16 percent of the five-year average.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?