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 Salmon still struggle 20 years later

Tam Moore, Capital Press Staff Writer 6/30/06

YREKA, Calif. – The Klamath Act, a 1986 federal law that was to restore salmon runs on the big river shared by California and Oregon, is out of money. So broke, as 20 years of continuing appropriations draw to a close in September, that the staff had to collect coffee and snack money from the public and participants at what was probably the final meeting of a pair of federal advisory committees gathered in Yreka on June 21 and 22.

For Keith Wilkinson, a veteran of all 20 years of Klamath Fisheries Task Force and the Klamath Fisheries Management Council, it’s bittersweet. Representing Oregon commercial fishermen, river guides and at times the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wilkinson made lots of friends.

But he reacted bluntly when Petey Brucker, another volunteer who heads the technical working group supporting the project, talked about a massive report on the legacy of the effort as new issues keep emerging.

“So,” Wilkinson asked, “is the legacy information gaps on restoration (effectiveness) and fish populations?” Brucker nodded his head in agreement.

With almost no commercial ocean season this year from Newport, Ore., south to near Fort Bragg, Calif., the expiration of federal funds means no money to gather data or to pay mileage and expenses for the dozens of agency, tribal and government representatives. Their biggest achievement may be a long-range restoration plan issued in 1991.

When Brucker’s legacy report finishes peer review and is issued this fall, it will show that a host of restoration projects did get done.

But for a river system once among the most productive on the West Coast, just 29,000 wild fall chinook salmon are expected to enter the Klamath near Requa, Calif., in August and September. That’s far below the 35,000 target the council established as needed for sustaining the run, and the reason commercial trollers are in port and there’s limited sportsfishing on inland reaches of the Klamath and its tributaries.

Farmers in the upper Klamath Basin and ranchers in the Scott and Shasta valleys near Yreka have a huge stake in what happens with the fish. So do Central Valley Project irrigators who divert significant water from the Trinity River, the largest Klamath tributary. That’s because in a 10 million-acre basin where precipitation is sometimes scant, irrigation diversions become an immediate target in seeking downstream flows needed to support salmon.

John Engbring, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service executive in Sacramento and the federal official designated to gather the task force, thanked every speaker as each presented final reports. Without congressional authorization, while the law remains on the books, there’s no budget to spend any Klamath Act money after Sept. 30.

“We don’t really know what is going to happen in the future,” Engbring said.

But federal attention to the Klamath won’t go away. One active lawsuit requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to redo part of its biological opinion on downstream discharges from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project centered on Klamath Falls, Ore. A National Academy of Science committee in July takes up details of two mathematical models that will help set downstream flows.

Irma Lagomarino, the NMFS delegate to the task force, said a salmon recovery plan for the Klamath should be out by January 2008.

What assurance do we have that it will get done, asked George Kautsky, representing the Hoopa Tribe’s fishery program.

“My boss … says ‘you will get this done,” Lagomarino replied.

For farmers, tribal members and other Klamath stakeholders, the long-range action may shift to a watershed-wide conference scheduled Nov. 7-9 in Redding, Calif. It’s being organized by the Klamath Compact Commission, a two-state partnership with the federal government left over from an effort in the 1950s blocking diversion of mainstem Klamath water to Southern California.

“Dare I say that I’ll miss coming to these meetings,” said Alice Kilham, the Klamath Falls businesswoman who is compact chairman. “I count myself lucky to meet people from the other parts of this basin.”

Kilham also wondered what would have happened in 1986 if Congress had appropriated $200 million for 20 years, instead of the $20 million for 20 years that’s quickly being spent down to the Sept. 30 deadline.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.



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