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Hearing should highlight species act problems

Published July 15, 2004, Herald and News

No thoughtful person in the Klamath Basin expects the Endangered Species Act to be repealed or gutted. Nationally, there's strong sentiment behind the goals of the act, which is to preserve creation's diversity.

But the congressional hearing Saturday in Klamath Falls can draw attention to serious problems in the way the act is administered. In the process, the field hearing should suggest to thoughtful people that there's a way out of the water struggle in this Basin.

Two points need to be made. Both flow from the work of an independent panel of scientists of impeccable credentials and unquestioned impartiality. This is the committee named by the National Research Council to examine the water shutoff of 2001.

  • First, the work of government scientists has to meet high standards when so much is at stake. The Klamath Basin suffered mightily when the irrigation water was shut off in 2001, but the independent scientists found no sound basis for that decision.

    Before scientific work is published in credible journals, it must be reviewed by other scientists - this is called peer review. It seems so little, and harmless to endangered species, to expect that the science behind a decision that would throw hundreds of farmers out of business and destroy several small towns meets the test that would apply to any other work intended for publication in a credible scholarly journal.

    That's the most important of the changes that will be discussed Saturday. Another is to open up decision-making under the Endangered Species Act. In 2000-2001, farmers were shut out of the deliberations and can't be blamed for figuring that the Clinton administration holdovers and the Klamath Tribes were colluding against them. That's exactly what it looked like.

  • Second, solving the problems of the Klamath Basin will require a basinwide approach.

    That means that we can't preserve the suckers and the coho salmon simply by manipulating the levels of the Klamath River and the flows of water from the Iron Gate Dam. We have to talk about lots of other things, from dam removal to habitat restoration to hatcheries to increased water storage and so on. The decisions of 2001 were disastrous in part because so little in the way of practical solutions was possible.

    To accomplish things on a practical level, we'll have to abide by some kindergarten rules: Everybody's interests have to be taken into account. No interest group gets everything it wants. No groups get to gang up on others.

    The problems of the Klamath Basin aren't going to be solved in the courts, in the state agencies or in Washington. The problems of the Klamath Basin can be solved only when, locally, we can find the means to get all the parties, from Cascades to the Pacific, committed to a resolution and committed to sitting at the same table to get there. Once we do that, the courts, the agencies and Washington will bless our efforts.

    The not-so-secret talks at the Shiloh Inn last year failed, but they did demonstrate that it's possible to get groups bitterly divided to sit at the same table. There have been any number of efforts over the years to bring together enough people to see their way clear to a resolution.

    None have succeeded. Nevertheless, one day, one such effort has to click. If not, nobody's hopes here will be realized and the Basin's agony will be permanent. That's not acceptable.

    There's a lot of room in the Klamath Basin - one of its virtues - and lots of room for dissent. To those planning to rally Saturday, have at it. It's the American way peaceably to assemble to defend your interests and advance your cause. Remember, though, that peaceable is the word. Someday, you'll be sitting across the table from each other.

    The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board.

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