Tags: Scientists | Side | With | Klamath | Farmers

Scientists Side With Klamath Farmers

Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM

The academy concluded that there was no evidence that low water levels in the past had harmed the fish populations in Oregon's Upper Klamath Lake and in the Klamath River, which runs through Oregon and northern California.

"The available scientific evidence does not support current proposals to change water levels or river flows to promote the welfare of the fish currently at risk, although future research may justify doing so," said William Lewis, a University of Colorado professor and chairman of the committee that wrote the report at the request of the Interior Department.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service last year issued biological opinions that called for more water to be allowed to flow through the habitats of the coho salmon, the Lost River sucker and the short nose sucker. The suckers were placed on the endangered species list in 1998 while the coho, a favorite catch of sport fishermen, was listed as threatened in 1997.

A drought in the Pacific Northwest had lowered water levels in the basin to the point where the wildlife regulators decreed that water usually earmarked for farmers in the area would be largely diverted to the fish habitat. The result was a shutoff of irrigation water in the basin last summer and increasingly frustrated protests from farmers, lawmakers and groups opposed to the government's animal-first land-use policies.

"This new study proves that the government based its decision to deny water to farmers on junk science and in the process, unnecessarily hurt more than 1,500 family businesses in the Klamath Basin," Bill Simon, a candidate for the Republican nomination in California's gubernatorial race, declared in a news release.

"Protecting endangered species is a worthy goal, but decisions must be based on sound science and take into account the economic and human impact as well."

The NAS said Monday that drops in water levels in past years did not appear to result in die-offs of the rare suckers. The panel also concluded that releasing water from Upper Klamath Lake during the hot, dry summer was not a good idea because the water in the lake would likely have been heated to temperatures that do not agree with salmon.

"The National Marine Fisheries Service ... proposed the higher flows primarily to increase habitat space for coho in the main river. But the space increase that can be achieved in dry years through adjustments in dam operations is small and possibly insignificant," the report said.

The survival of salmon stocks has been a major issue in the Pacific Northwest because of their need for clear, cool breeding streams and the need for water for agriculture and a growing suburban area.

The NAS report did not scrap setting minimum water-level requirements in the Klamath Basin. It warned that water levels should not be allowed to drop below minimal levels that had occurred over the past 10 years because the impacts had not been fully studied.

Still, Klamath growers welcomed the report and opined that it proved fish and farmers could coexist, and that last summer's estimated $134 million crop loss, not to mention the clash of political ideologies, could have been avoided.

"Agriculture would have made it fine, and the fish would have made it fine," Bob Gasser, a fertilizer dealer in Merill, Ore., and a spokesman for many the basin's farmers, told the Portland Oregonian.

"It is a relief for this to finally come out. Sometimes you keep saying something for so long, you wonder if anyone's listening."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The academy concluded that there was no evidence that low water levels in the past had harmed the fish populations in Oregon's Upper Klamath Lake and in the Klamath River, which runs through Oregon and northern California. The available scientific evidence does not...
Scientists,Side,With,Klamath,Farmers
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2002-00-04
Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM
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