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Klamath River 'summit' called to address salmon declines

(KBC editor's note: Despite the fact that the National Research Council's independent peer review states low flows did not cause fish die-off of 2002 in the Klamath River and river flow management is not justified, and despite the fact that the river flows are now higher than possible before the Klamath Project was built, blame continues to be directed toward the Klamath Project, loggers and fishermen.)


Organizers of a Klamath River "salmon summit" next week are calling for voluntary accords to avoid federal intervention and another potentially contentious listing for North Coast rivers under the Endangered Species Act.

Klamath River salmon issues pose consequences for the entire Northern California coastline, including the Russian River basin.

This year the spring run of chinook salmon on the Klamath was the lowest on record, raising new concerns on top of a massive fish kill in 2002 that left one of the state's prime rivers littered with rotting carcasses of chinook, steelhead trout and endangered coho salmon.

"We know that the real solutions are never easy to find, but the people of the Klamath basin have shown a willingness to cooperate when given the opportunity," said biologist Ron Reed of the Karuk Indian Tribe.

For years, Klamath River users have been torn by competing interests. Upstream farmers want to continue diversions that have enabled century-old agricultural communities to thrive. Downstream users including commercial and sport fishing interests have witnessed dwindling fish runs.

Historically, the Klamath has been the second-largest salmon producer in the state. The 200-mile-long river traverses rugged terrain across the top of California before emptying into the ocean near Crescent City in Del Norte County.

Reed and other organizers of the conference Friday in the Karuk Community Center in the town of Orleans are asking the divergent interests to come to the table to find common ground.

Prompting the summit is the threat of a possible new federal listing to protect spring chinook salmon that return from the ocean to spawn in the Klamath and its tributaries.

Petey Brucker, program coordinator for the Salmon River Restoration Council, said his group's goal is to help draft a voluntary recovery plan for spring chinook salmon.

"This kind of effective strategy, including conservation agreements, may be the best way to avoid listing, and lead to the successful recovery of spring chinook salmon," Brucker said.

The reasons behind dwindling salmon runs on the Klamath are complex, including low water flows, historic salmon migration patterns, overfishing and environmental damage from dams and logging practices. The problems continue despite federal spending of at least $100million over the past decade on restoration efforts.

Nat Pennington, a fisheries coordinator for the salmon restoration council, said he believes time is running out.

"We are seeing lower returns than ever before, and regulatory processes set up to protect salmon haven't proven to work quickly," said Pennington.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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