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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

KLAMATH NWRC: The Klamath Restoration Agreement: A Challenge to Us All in Conserving Our Resources and Heritage

Region 8, March 4, 2008

By Ron Cole, Project Leader Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex

 

Klamath River Basin has been the subject of intense controversy for decades. At the heart of the controversy is water; not enough of it to go around to all who need it. There have been many attempts to solve these issues over the past quarter century, but they each fell way short of the mark.  After so many failed attempts, some believe that in the Klamath, we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. However, all that all may change.  Details of the proposed Klamath Restoration Agreement (KRA) were announced in January.  Over the past two years, provisions of this far-reaching Agreement have been negotiated by twenty six parties with wide ranging interests in management of water resources in the Upper and Lower Klamath Basins.  The provisions contained in the Agreement are both detailed and complex.  a Fisheries Restoration Program, A Water Resources Program, Regulatory Assurances for Landowners, a Power Resources Program, a Counties Program, and a Tribal Program. Integral to the Agreement is a forthcoming Hydropower Agreement with PacifiCorp to remove four dams.

 

Folded into this Agreement are the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.  I will attempt to summarize points contained in the KRA which have important, long-term impacts on the Klamath Basin Refuges (primarily Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges).  The proposed Agreement recognizes that the Refuges are a purpose of the Klamath Reclamation Project on an equal footing with agriculture which I feel is a significant and positive change from the past.  As a result of this change and other provisions in the Agreement, the following could happen if the KRA is signed:

 

· Refuges would have a certainty of water allocation providing for sufficient water in all but the driest years.  In the past, Refuges have suffered draught conditions in eight out of ten years. Under the proposed agreement, the Refuges would receive sufficient water for wildlife purposes in nine of ten years.  A Drought Plan would be developed to address the rare occasion where water is in extremely short supply. Refuge managers will have more flexibility to manage water than in the past.  Water certainty means more precise wetland management, improved habitat, and healthier migratory birds.

 

· Refuges would receive 20 percent of lease land revenues to support wildlife conservation programs on the refuges. Since 1964, Public Law 88-567 (Kuchel Act) has provided for the continued leasing of specified refuge lands for optimum agriculture providing the leasing is consistent with proper waterfowl management.  Farmers must pay for the privilege to lease these lands and the lease revenues go to the Bureau of Reclamation.  Under the Agreement, 20% of the lease land revenues would go directly to the Refuge, providing additional means to improve our water and habitat management to directly support migratory birds.

 

· Farming would continue on the Refuges with continued support by the refuges, environmental and agricultural interests to promote Walking Wetlands programs and other positive conservation efforts which have been introduced on lease lands and on private lands within the Upper Basin.  In concert with conventional agriculture, these innovative conservation efforts have had a positive impact on Basin wildlife, water quality, and rural economics.  This means that farming professionals would have the added capacity to provide food for our Nation's breadbasket and migratory waterfowl and waterbirds.

 

· The Refuges would be responsible for sharing the costs of pumping water from Tule Lake to Lower Klamath Refuge wetlands.  In the past these costs were paid by the local irrigation district.  Along with sharing the benefits of being part of the Klamath Project, the Refuges should be sharing some of the responsibilities, too. Finalization of the Agreement will involve legislation with funding to implement provisions of the Agreement and negotiations with PacifiCorp calling for the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.  Provisions of the settlement agreement are not without controversy; and much work lies ahead.

 

So, why will this attempt to solve the Klamath be more than another missed opportunity?  Because this proposed agreement is deeply rooted in the communities and the lives of those who live in the Basin; Communities rich in heritage and dependent upon the Klamath for their sustenance. I believe that the Klamath Restoration Agreement, if signed, could provide significant long-term benefits to Refuges which are in keeping with the vision and the promise that President Theodore Roosevelt made when he established the Lower Klamath Reservation in 1908 as the nation's first refuge set aside for migratory waterfowl and other marsh birds.  With the support and participation of farmers, fishers, ranchers, Tribal governments, hunters, birders, teachers and others, we can restore and protect fish, wildlife, and communities of the Klamath Basin for future generations.  We now must now reach common ground to save a common heritage.

 

 

 

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov