Management shift dooms local wildlife refuges
February 9, 2003
By Henry Christensen
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, OR
This years' waterfowl hunting season, which turned out to be a total
disaster, prompted me to do some research.
What I found was, after the war, a handful of ex-G.I.s built a terrific
refuge complex. It was the showplace of the United States and probably,
Waterfowl numbers peaked at as high as seven million. There were
thousands of shorebirds, there were more than twenty thousand pheasants
on the refuges, chukars were introduced and flourished, quail were
everywhere and there were thousands of sage grouse on the Clear Lake
The question is, what happened?
Unfortunately, as the dedicated U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service workers
left, they were replaced primarily with office personnel. As a result,
for more than twenty years, from the early 1970s until the early 1990s,
there was virtually no botulism and cholera control, resulting in losses
of as high as 100,000 waterfowl per year.
When you add in lost production, you are talking about millions of
birds. The duck hospital was allowed to deteriorate, and the holding pen
was torn down.
The predator control program was stopped, resulting in heavy nest losses
Sage grouse on Clear Lake were virtually wiped out. Chukars were
completely killed off, pheasants reduced from more than 20,000 to only a
This years' waterfowl numbers peaked out at 661,000, down more than
ninety percent from what was on the refuge when the area was the
showplace of the world. That's approximately 6.5 million birds.
The raising of Hennchen barley by the Fish & Wildlife Service (preferred
by waterfowl) was phased out, leaving upland game birds and both
resident and migrating waterfowl totally dependent for food on what's
produced by local farmers and ranchers, both on and off the refuges.
Over a period of time, the Fish & Wildlife Service allowed the thousands
- and probably hundreds of thousands - of fish that were in Lower
Klamath Lake, Tulelake and in the Lost River adjacent to the Tulelake
Refuge to be destroyed without lifting a single finger to stop it.
Consequently, the thousands of fish-eating birds and many of the ducks
that depend on aquatic insect life and aquatic plant life for food are
gone, and if something isn't done to stop the killing, they will never
After the hard winter of 1993, I asked one of the Fish & Wildlife
Service biologists why they didn't feed the pheasants, chukars and
quail, and was told [that] they are exotic birds and we don't care if
About the same time, I asked another biologist why they didn't pick up
the waterfowl that were dying from cholera. I was told [that] most were
snow geese and [that] they stop in Summer Lake and Warner Valley in
Oregon and there are plenty in this valley, so we don't care if they
With this kind of people in charge, it's hard to envision the refuges
ever being rebuilt.
This year the Fish & Wildlife Service, in conjunction with the
California Waterfowl Association (CWA), opened Frys Island and the Lower
Sump, on Tule Lake, for hunting. They were two of the few places the
waterfowl, that still use the Tule Lake Refuge, could rest in peace. The
Fish & Wildlife Service also spent thousands of dollars building
elaborate hunting blinds on them, enabling the hunters to kill the few
birds that still use these areas.
Tule Lake and Lower Klamath are waterfowl refuges, not hunting
Thousands of bird watchers and hunters flocked to the area, giving local
businesses a much-needed shot in the arm each year. Unfortunately, they
have been reduced to a mere trickle, resulting in the town of Tulelake
slowly, but surely, dying. Another hunting season like this one will see
more businesses folding up.
An article on the front page of the Herald and News quoted the refuge
manager as saying [that] they had quit operating the refuges for
migratory waterfowl and shifted efforts to eagles, and it shows. Let's
face the facts - the refuges are finished.
Author Henry Christensen of Tulelake, California, is a retired employee
of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who worked on the Tule Lake and the
Lower Klamath wildlife refuges.