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Fish report fallout keeps on coming

published Oct. 23, 2003


The day after the release of a federal report about fish in the Klamath Basin, reaction continues to roll out from Washington, D.C., to Klamath Falls to the Pacific Coast.

The most common message is that the National Research Council's report on endangered fishes in the Basin is going to change things.

Members of Congress said the report refocuses restoration efforts on the Basin as a whole. Federal officials said the report will change how the Klamath River is managed. The Klamath Tribes said the report shows the need for restoration of the ecosystem.

Meanwhile, a Northern California newspaper said a draft version of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report on the fall 2002 Klamath River fish kill blames low flows in the river.

According to the Eureka Times-Standard, a preliminary U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report says about 33,000 chinook salmon died because of low water flows in the Klamath River.

The paper said it got the draft Tuesday and quoted it as saying ''decreased discharge'' delayed migration of the salmon, which died from disease in the crowded lower river in September 2002.

The California Department of Fish and Game came to similar conclusions in a report it released shortly afterward.

The unfinished Fish and Wildlife Service report was not considered in the National Research Council's final report, released Tuesday. The report said it couldn't determine whether low flows led to the die-off.

Peter Moyle, one of the scientists who wrote the research council report, was quoted in the Eureka paper as saying that one reason the council's report took so long to be released was scientists were waiting for the Fish and Wildlife report, which they never received.

While the data on the fish kill is scant, it would have helped the council in drafting its conclusions, he said.

Jim Nickles, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the report is still under review in Washington, D.C., and he was leery of putting credence in draft findings.

"The report went through several versions over several months," he said.

He said it was unclear which draft of the report the Times-Standard has or how the paper got it.

Tuesday's release of the National Research Council's long-awaited report on threatened and endangered fish in the Basin stirred a response from elected officials back in Washington, D.C.

"It's a complete vindication of what the farmers and what I have been saying all along," said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in a telephone interview Tuesday. "The lake levels do need to be kept high for suckers. The water did not need to be shut off in 2001."

Not only does the report rewrite the past, but it shows where the future could lead, he said.

"It lays out a very clear road map of what needs to be done to restore salmon and suckers."

U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, a Northern California Republican who represents part of the irrigation lands in the Klamath Basin, said people in the Basin should be pleased with the council's report and use it to proceed in a constructive manner. He said the report's recommendations will need to be scrutinized.

"It is important that our primary focus continues to be preserving agriculture and the way of life in the Klamath Basin and elsewhere in Northern California," he said in a press release.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, a Northern California Democrat whose district is home to tribes and fishing interests downstream, said the report detailed "what many experts have been saying all along about the Klamath River - that immediate restoration is needed."

Thompson said he was skeptical that many of the reports recommendations - which include studies of dam removal, river bank restoration and water right buyouts - would be supported in the current political climate.

"Unfortunately, the (Bush) administration has not been receptive to common-sense and accountable conservation practices on the Klamath," he said.

The report will affect an environmental impact statement for the the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project that will cover operations until 2012, said Christina Karas, deputy project manager, according to the Capital Press.

Karas said the statement is still in the development stage and the public comment period was extended until December to allow consideration of the report, according to the Salem-based agricultural weekly. It could also affect a conservation plan being brewed by the Bureau.

Next week, the Bureau plans to release another draft of the proposed basinwide conservation plan, which officials hope will bring together upstream and downstream interests.

"Think unified Basin," Karas said.

Above Upper Klamath Lake, the Klamath Tribes said, in a press release, they are encouraged after a cursory review of the report.

"The NRC final report clearly acknowledges the need for large-scale ecosystem and fish habitat restoration in the Klamath Basin, and that is promising," Tribal Chairman Allen Foreman said. "It also emphasizes that additional withdrawals of water from Upper Klamath Lake cannot be reconciled with the needs of fisheries. The Klamath Tribes and our staff scientists will thoroughly review the full report and look forward to participating in viable remedial actions, as well as long-term solutions."

The Tribes had previously identified "inherent problems" with the NRC Committee's interim report, which was released in January 2002.

NOTE: The Associated Press Contributed to this Report

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