Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY 1/20/05
Environment: A judge has ruled that coho salmon have been illegally listed as an endangered species, a victory that comes too late for the farmers of the Klamath River Basin and the families of four young firefighters.
In the spring of 2001, the government ordered irrigation water cut off to 1,400 farms in southern Oregon and northern California to save suckerfish and salmon said to be threatened by low water levels in Oregon's Upper Klamath Lake and Klamath River.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service called for water to be diverted from these farms to increase the flow through the habitats of coho salmon, the Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker.
The suckers were placed on the Endangered Species Act in 1998; the coho — a favorite catch of sport fishermen — was listed as threatened in 1997.
Last week, federal judge Michael Hogan agreed with the Pacific Legal Foundation that the government violated the ESA when it failed to include hatchery fish in its assessment of the coho's status.
But, as Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Russ Brooks noted: "This victory comes too late for the farmers who were pushed into bankruptcy and the businesses that were forced to close to protect fish that were never endangered. Our rivers and streams are teeming with salmon, yet the Klamath community was practically destroyed because of environmentalism run amok."
Two years ago, the National Academy of Sciences found "no sound scientific basis" for the government action and that higher water would not protect suckerfish and salmon, whose exact numbers were unknown.
Salmon protection could justifiably be listed as the cause of death for four firefighters who perished July 10, 2001, fighting what started as a 25-acre fire near Washington's Chewuch River.
The fire seemed to be under control at 5:30 a.m. when the firefighters requested a water drop to finish off the blaze. For the next 8 1/2 hours, authorities dithered and debated as to whether scooping up water from the Chewuch would also scoop up fish from what had been designated as the protected habitat of salmon and trout.
By the time the first water arrived at 3 p.m., the fire had reached the point where it would explode into a 2,500-acre inferno. By 5:25 p.m., all four firefighters — two men, two women — were dead. No word on how many endangered fish were lost.
When the Endangered Species Act was passed, few of us saw it for what it has become: a stealth constitutional amendment that could deprive us of our property rights, our livelihoods and even our lives.
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