Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

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         Sucker Fish Endangers Farmers 

Reprinted from http://www.newsmax.com/ 

J. Zane Walley
Saturday, May 5, 2001 

The Endangered Species Act has abruptly and unmercifully
extinguished the livelihoods, land values and hopes of almost 2,000
farm and ranch families in Oregon and California. 

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!”

Article made possible by a Grant from the Paragon Foundation. 


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