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For Immediate Release: April 15, 2004

View the report online. (pdf, 1Mb)

New Klamath Refuge Report Details Wildlife Woes

Publication exposes problems facing National Wildlife Refuges, offers vision for restoration

Medford - A coalition of conservation groups today released a new report detailing the chronic degradation that threatens the six National Wildlife Refuges of the Klamath Basin, and examines how refuge restoration could play a key role in solving the Klamath water crisis. Conservationists also announced the availability of guided tours of the Klamath refuges for members of the news media and decision-makers.

"The Klamath Basin wildlife refuges are some of the most precious public lands in America, but they are in serious trouble" said Bob Hunter, a staff attorney with WaterWatch. "In Oregon and throughout the nation few people are aware of the fact that these spectacular refuges are literally dying for water."

The report, titled "Refuges in Peril: Fish, Wildlife, and the Klamath Water Crisis", was prepared jointly by WaterWatch, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, Earthjustice, and The Wilderness Society. It documents the history of the Klamath refuges, and the values they were intended to protect. Through maps and full color photographs it highlights what has been lost as the Bureau of Reclamation's massive Klamath Irrigation Project has replaced the basin's once-vast network of lakes and marshes with high desert agriculture. The report also explores the amazing natural beauty of these precious public lands, including the dramatic waterfowl migrations that have led some to call the Klamath marshes "the Everglades of the West."

The Untold Story of the Klamath Water Crisis
The ongoing water crisis in the Klamath Basin has been a hotbed of controversy in recent years. But while public attention has been drawn by anti-government protests by irrigation interests and the tragic 2002 salmon kill on the Klamath River, the plight of the basin's National Wildlife Refuges has largely been ignored. "Refuges in Peril" aims to increase public awareness of the problems facing the refuges, and generate public demand for solutions.

During the water crisis of 2001 conservation groups were forced to go to court in order to compel the Bush administration to provide water for threatened bald eagles on the refuges. In 2002 refuge wetlands again went dry while adjacent fields of potatoes and alfalfa within the Klamath Irrigation Project were irrigated normally. And in 2003 the refuges received approximately half of the water they needed to support the fall migration of waterfowl through the region.

The ongoing water shortages have been compounded by the presence of commercial agricultural operations on refuge lands. Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, located on the Oregon/California border, lease approximately 22,000 acres of land within their boundaries for commercial agricultural operations. Land that was set aside for eagles and geese is instead managed for potatoes and onions, requiring the use of toxic pesticides, fertilizers, and an enormous quantity of water. The lease-land program consumes a staggering 16 billion gallons of water each year-and the commercial farms always have a higher priority for water than do the critical refuge wetlands.

"When Teddy Roosevelt created Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge he intended for it to be a haven for birds, not tractors," observed Jim McCarthy, policy analyst with the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "Are these wildlife refuges or potato refuges?"

2004: Another Tough Year for Klamath Wildlife
The recently released Bureau of Reclamation 2004 operations plan for the Klamath Irrigation Project contains disturbing news for wildlife. While irrigators will face only modest water use restrictions this summer, water deliveries to the National Wildlife Refuges will once again fail to meet full fish and wildlife needs. The plan calls for Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges to receive a total of just 25,000 acre-feet of water. While this is an improvement over the 2003 plan, it falls far below the approximately 70,000 acre feet needed for Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge alone. It is also falls short of the 32,500 acre feet that refuge managers concluded in 2001 was the bare minimum needed to sustain the refuges' threatened bald eagles.

But even the meager amount of water provided under the plan is not certain. Page 8 of the Bureau's 2004 operation plan states that: "Should additional requirements for Project water develop then Project water deliveries to refuges could be further reduced. If additional hydrological shortages occur, refuge deliveries could be completely curtailed."

Finding Real Solutions to the Klamath Water Crisis
While much of the report focuses on the problems these public lands face, "Refuges in Peril" also points the way towards a better future by suggesting actions that can be taken today to restore and protect the natural resources of the Klamath Basin.

The report argues that no effort to solve the Klamath water crisis can succeed unless it addresses the fact that state and federal officials have promised too much water to too many different interests in the basin. Ending the lease land farming program and restoring refuge marshes could play an important role in solving the crisis. Doing so would reduce summertime demand for water within the Klamath Project by 10%, and allow marshes to be managed as a natural water storage system for the Klamath River.

"We have simply promised too much water to too many different interests in the Klamath Basin," said Bob Hunter. "There won't be enough water for the salmon, for the refuges, and for fish in Upper Klamath Lake until we can bring the demand for this precious resource back into balance with supply."


For more information on the report, or to arrange a guided tour of Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges, contact Bob Hunter at (541) 772-6116.

View the report online. (pdf, 1Mb)





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