Tags: Sucker | Fish | Endangers | Farmers

Sucker Fish Endangers Farmers

Friday, 04 May 2001 12:00 AM

On April 7th, The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) notified rural families in the Klamath Basin Project, a watershed straddling the California and Oregon border, that nearly all the irrigation water in the basin had been shifted to save endangered sucker fish.

About 1,200 farms in Southern Oregon and Northern California, each averaging 400 acres, depends on water from the project to grow potatoes, grain, onions, hay and alfalfa. Almost 200,000 acres of pasture and farmland in the Klamath Project will shortly go dry, with lost income estimated at well over $100 million. The economic impact will extend to local businesses that serve the agriculture industry, and to retailers patronized by farmers, ranchers and the hundreds of farm laborers who will be displaced. Research by Range Magazine, indicates that land values have tumbled to $50 an acre from an average of $800.

Oregon U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken upheld the BOR resolution in Federal Court. Citing treaty obligations and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Aiken wrote in her ruling, "Given the high priority the law places on species threatened with extinction, I cannot find that the balance of hardship tips sharply in the plaintiffs' favor."

Agriculturists had hoped the Bush administration might come to their rescue. However, formidable threats of lawsuits from the California Council of Trout Unlimited, Salmon Restoration Federation, Northern California Association of River Guides, Waterwatch, The Wilderness Society, Klamath Forest Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council and others left officials with only one option - save the suckers.

U.S Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman devoted large amounts of time to finding a resolution to the dilemma. Even Vice President Dick Cheney became involved in an effort to resolve the problem, but ultimately he approved the decision to cut the water off. Republican lawmakers have pointed out that, faced with evidence that the Klamath Project was causing harm to endangered fish, therefore violating Federal Law, (the Endangered Species Act,) the administration had little choice about the decision it had to make.

The Bush administration is very aware of problems posed by the ESA and the ominous threat of costly environmentalists’ lawsuit. The president proposed relaxing some of the strictest mandates in an effort to give federal officials more discretion to decide which species to protect and how best to protect them. Under his proposal, citizens could still sue, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) could not spend any money enforcing the results of the suit, rendering it meaningless.

The proposal, included in the USFWS budget request, would limit the ability of environmental groups to obtain court orders that presently dictate almost all of the agency's efforts. Instead, it would allow Interior Secretary Gale Norton to set her own priorities and timetables. Norton recently said, "For too long we've been spending precious resources on paying lawyers bills, fighting in court, instead of protecting species."

Charli Coon, former counsel on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and now an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said, ''These citizen suits are a back-door way of regulation, because they can get the court to make the decision rather than the agency."

Department of the Interior spokesman Mark Pfeifle added: "The worry is that some of these lawsuits are brought not out of concern for the species but out of opposition to development in general. They are using the critical habitat lawsuits to shut down growth. No hunting. No fishing. No grazing. No farming. No suburbs. No development. Nothing."

Ron Arnold, who tracks green groups and their sources of funding at the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, agrees with Pfeifle. "It's a purely anticapitalist ideology at work. The Endangered Species Act is just a surrogate, a means to an end. The intention is not to save wildlife."

Environmentalists were quick to react to President Bush’s proposal to limit their powers under the ESA. Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows stated, "The White House is the most environmentally hostile presence in U.S. history. " John Adams, president of Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, "Our membership is outraged; people are calling me saying, 'You've gotta stop this.'” Carl Pope, head of the 650,000-member Sierra Club, based in San Francisco, has mounted a television and radio advertising campaign on the Bush plan, but he thinks the big winner for his group is its efforts to attract donations and new members.

Bush’s political adversaries used his plan to further their relationship with green ideologues. Congressional Democrats assailed the rider as new evidence of hostility to the environment from the Bush administration and invoked the threat of a filibuster to defeat the legislation. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said "any and all" legislative tactics were being considered to thwart Bush's plan. Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Edward J. Marke said, ''This is an appalling anti-environmental rider.”

For residents of the Klamath Basin and their representatives, the war for their water rights is all but over. On May 2, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden addressed the U.S. House of Representatives on the Klamath disaster. In his short speech, he said: "The Endangered Species Act is supposed to have a reasonable and prudent test…so I ask you, is it reasonable and prudent to bankrupt nearly 2,000 farm families … This administration has tried in vain to find a way to provide water to farmers this year, but they were boxed in by the unworkable requirements of the Endangered Species Act … I am going to do everything I can to inject long-overdue common sense into the Endangered Species Act and make my colleagues in Washington, D.C. aware of the terrible hardship its enforcement is creating.”

As the administration and elected officials attempt to soften the economic and social problems created by the ESA, Klamath residents are mounting public protests and rallies. "This is far too big to let it ride and let it go,'' said Don Russell, chairman of the Klamath Water Users Association. "We're talking human lives here!”

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On April 7th, The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) notified rural families in the Klamath Basin Project, a watershed straddling the California and Oregon border, that nearly all the irrigation water in the basin had been shifted to save endangered sucker fish. About...
Friday, 04 May 2001 12:00 AM
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