Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893
(KWUA letter is followed by Thompson's AP article Wildlife rulings ignore key science, congressmen and critics say)
December 20, 2004
Don Thompson’s AP recent article ("Wildlife rulings ignore key science, congressmen and critics say", December 19, 2004) contains several misrepresentations of Klamath River developments that have occurred in recent years.
Mr. Thompson resurrects arguments made by activist organizations that claim that flawed science led to the deaths of 33,000 fish on the Klamath River two years ago. Traditional advocates of high mainstem Klamath River flows quickly concluded in the fall of 2002 that the fish die-off was due in large part to Klamath Project operations, despite the fact that the fish died below the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity rivers, 200 miles downstream of the Klamath Project.
Not mentioned in Mr. Thompson’s article is that a federal judge in 2003 ruled that the cause of the fish die-off was a "triable issue of fact", based on the conflicting evidence presented by the parties regarding the cause of the fish die-off. Further, in October 2003, the National Research Council Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fish in the Klamath Basin similarly failed to find a linkage between the operation of the Klamath Project and the fish die-off, and questioned whether changes federal project operations at the time would have prevented it.
Thompson only tells part of the story regarding NOAA Fisheries biologist Michael Kelly’s "whistleblower" claims. In 2002, Kelly said his warnings that low water in the Klamath River could harm salmon were "illegally altered", according to Mr. Thompson. The article fails to mention that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) later dismissed the whistleblower charges made by Kelly. The OSC determined that Kelly’s allegations did not warrant further investigation and closed the file for this case.
Thompson also failed to mention U.S. Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney’s report – released last March – which found "no evidence of political influence affecting the decisions pertaining to the water in the Klamath Project."
Finally, Mr. Thompson suggests that Kelly’s testimony helped influence a federal court ruling "overturning" NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion. Actually, the judge remanded the plan to NOAA Fisheries with instructions to amend it to address the deficiencies noted. The Klamath plan was not "overturned" or vacated.
Environmental sensationalism and half-truths scare the public and make us more likely to spend our resources and attention solving phantom problems while ignoring real and pressing issues. Telling only one side of the story does nothing but polarize stakeholders and further delay the necessary constructive and collaborative work that must be done to improve our watershed.
Wildlife rulings ignore key science, congressmen and critics say
SACRAMENTO - Federal officials overrode their own scientists this fall when they decided that diverting more water to farmers and residents of parched Southern California would not harm fish populations in Northern California rivers.
The decision angered 19 Democratic members of Congress who won promises of a probe into what they called flawed science similar to a decision that led to the nation's largest fish kill on the Klamath River two years ago.
The Klamath and California delta incidents are just two examples of a trend in which scientists' recommendations have been significantly altered by administrators in the federal agencies charged with safeguarding the nation's land and water. Reports on salmon, trout and marbled murrelets all were affected, potentially opening millions of acres to more human intrusion, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The changes, and in some cases complete deletion, of scientific findings could have consequences for wildlife habitat and wildlands across the West.
"Political science," as it's called by environmental attorney Trent Orr, is happening more often as the Bush administration changes the use of the Endangered Species Act, drawing criticism from Democrats, scientists, commercial fisherman and environmental groups.
But the act's original intent has bogged down in an endless round of lawsuits between environmental and business organizations, and is now viewed as punishment or a regulatory hammer by the affected interests, said California Forestry Association President Dave Bischel. Better to try a cooperative approach, he said, as has been suggested by the administration and some organizations on opposing sides of the question.
Federal officials said they were just following the law and routinely amending reports as part of their normal review. Recent decisions to scale back critical habitat designations were a lawful use of the administration's discretion, said U.S. Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery.
Biologists at National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries first found that diverting more water to Southern California would likely "jeopardize the continued existence" of Central Valley spring Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead.
Administrators, however, overruled the findings and issued a revised analysis in October that didn't include possible extinction for the fish.
The ruling lets the federal Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Water Resources proceed with long-term water contracts with rural irrigation districts and urban water districts. It also furthers plans to pump more water through the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to thirsty Southern California.
Members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, claimed "the Bureau of Reclamation, in its haste to finalize water contracts in California, has improperly undermined the required NOAA Fisheries environmental process." She and others cited the Klamath fish kill as a cautionary precedent. Inspectors general of the Commerce and Interior departments, which oversee the agencies, promised to investigate.
The changes were "just typical project management oversight and supervision," said NOAA Fisheries' Assistant Regional Administrator Jim Lecky. He denied any improper outside influence prompted the change.
Reclamation spokesman Jeffrey McCracken said the agency routinely consulted with NOAA Fisheries as it amended the scientific report.
"There were a lot of factual inaccuracies that we brought to their attention," he said.
It's not the first time Lecky has been accused of bowing to political pressure and dumping scientists' findings. In 2002, NOAA Fisheries biologist Michael Kelly said his warnings that low water in the Klamath River could harm salmon were illegally altered. Later that year, his predictions came true when low water in the Klamath led to the nation's largest fish kill of as many as 77,000 salmon.
Kelly quit after a second dispute with Lecky, but his testimony helped influence a federal court ruling overturning the agency's long-term water flow plan for the Klamath.
The Delta and Klamath decisions are not isolated occurrences:
_ Fifty-nine pages listing the potential economic benefits of keeping the critical habitat designation for the threatened bull trout were removed from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. The service's decision affected the trout in 90 percent of the Columbia and Klamath river basins, which covers areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
"The benefits section had been completely excised," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
"It just lists all the costs of obliterating (logging) roads and some restrictions on logging," added Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
The service says it solicited comments from the American Forestry and Paper Association and the National Mining Association.
"They got their comments in, but they didn't ask the general public," Garrity said.
_ The economic benefits were left out of NOAA Fisheries' decision last month to remove the critical habitat designation for salmon and steelhead trout in as much as 90 percent of the previous designation in California and as much as 80 percent in the Pacific Northwest.
"Gosh, we may as well take all California, 100 million acres, and define it as critical habitat" by the time the needs of one species or another overlap, said the California Forestry Association's Bischel in supporting the decision.
_ Last spring, six government-appointed scientists took the unusual step of publishing their findings in the journal Science after their recommendations were rejected in a pending NOAA Fisheries decision. The scientists said their warnings against counting hatchery-raised salmon with wild salmon to determine whether the species should enjoy continued protection were rejected because they crossed the line from science into policy-making.
_ In September, the Fish and Wildlife Service overruled a recommendation by its own scientists and its regional office in deciding that declining populations of marbled murrelets in Washington, Oregon and California should not be considered for protection apart from their more abundant cousins in Canada and Alaska.
The ruling could spur removal of the robin-sized sea bird from the threatened species list, and ultimately allow more logging in old growth forests.
That decision came from the office of Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson, the Bush administration's point man on the Endangered Species Act and an outspoken critic of the law.
ON THE NET
Read the Bureau of Reclamation Delta decision documents at www.usbr.gov/mp/cvo/index.html
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