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Media Advisory

For Immediate Release
Klamath water users ass

October 8, 2004

Defenders of Wildlife Refuge Report Misses Mark

A prominent conservation group and Klamath Project irrigators today dismissed a publicized designation by Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington, D.C. –based environmental activist organization which listed the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex as one of its "most endangered" in America.

"This report’s one-page characterization of the Klamath refuges is classic, condensed mythology," said Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Klamath Water Users Association. "While local federal refuge managers in recent weeks have reflected on the past positive water year for the refuges, the scribes at Defenders of Wildlife have been busy trying to rewrite recent history."

"Refuges at Risk – America’s 10 Most Endangered Wildlife Refuges" pins the alleged pending collapse of the Klamath refuges squarely on the Klamath Irrigation Project and the family farmers and ranchers it serves.

"In addition to using precious water resources, farming has also introduced carcinogenic pesticides that have poisoned birds and other wildlife in the Klamath refuges," the report intones. "Without these refuges we could literally lose the birds of the West Coast."

Folks closer to the scene disagree.

"This report completely ignores the fact that there is a beneficial relationship between agriculture and wildlife," said Steve Kandra, who farms adjacent to the national wildlife refuge. "Farming and the refuges together are forming a productive environment for wildlife in the Klamath Basin."

Earlier this year, Dave Eshbaugh, (Executive Director of Audubon Oregon), visited property farmed by Kandra, who pointed to the first cutting of alfalfa that he annually contributes to waterfowl visiting the adjacent wildlife refuge. Kandra noted that he was happy with what he’d done, and that he wasn’t looking for any compensation, other than acknowledgement for his efforts. Eshbaugh quickly piped up.

"On behalf of the conservation community, I would like to thank you for what your land provides to these birds," he said.

Another key conservation group was critical of the report’s treatment of the Klamath refuges.

Refuge Report Misses Mark (Continued)

"The report fails to recognize the significant value that Klamath Project agriculture provides for waterfowl, both on the farm, and on the lease lands in the refuges," said Bill Gaines, of the California Waterfowl Association (CWA).

While Defenders of Wildlife – who spent over $10 million on "media and education" efforts last year – believe that the Klamath refuges and the birds of the West Coast are apparently in imminent danger, the people who actually live in the Basin see things differently. Just this week, the Klamath Falls Herald & News ran a story quoting federal

refuge officials saying that habitat conditions on the Klamath Basin refuge complex are better this year than they have been for several years. Also, CWA last month interviewed Klamath Refuge Complex manager Ron Cole, who offered up a much more positive assessment of current refuge conditions.

"Given that we have been working under a "dry water year scenario" as defined by the Bureau of Reclamation, we believe the refuges are looking very good at this point," Cole told CWA. "In fact, members of my staff and neighbors in the area who lived through the dismal and uncertain water conditions over the past few years have said that the refuges have not looked this good in four to five years."

Cole also focused on the positive partnership relationships that have developed between Klamath Project farmers and their refuge neighbors.

"All in all, it was a team effort.  We had many water users offering to donate water to the refuges this fall in case we were short, but because of the great cooperation earlier this year, we hope that won't be necessary," said Cole. "It helps to have such good friends."


  1. See the Klamath Falls Herald & News article from earlier this week, where officials say habitat conditions on the refuge and others in the Klamath Basin refuge complex are better this year than they have been for several years.
  2. Check out "Local Efforts to Assist Klamath National Wildlife Refuges" to get the story completely ignored by the Defenders of Wildlife report.
  3. "Defenders of Wildlife vs. Reality / Myth vs. Fact" – The one-page coverage of Klamath refuges in the refuge report is surprisingly full of factual inaccuracies.
  4. Klamath Refuge Manager Ron Cole discusses the real state of refuge affairs with the California Waterfowl Association. Full interview included.
  5. Excerpts of testimony of Bill Gaines, CWA, before the Committee on Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, U.S. House of Representatives.

The Klamath Water Users Association is a nonprofit corporation that has represented Klamath Irrigation Project irrigators since 1953. KWUA members include rural irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as private irrigation companies operating in California and Oregon.


Irrigation season OK, forecasting hard

Wednesday, October 6, 2004 3:14 PM PDT

Ducks and geese forage on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Tuesday. Officials say habitat conditions on the refuge and others in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge complex are better this year than they have been for several years.

Published October 6, 2004


Water was a fairly scarce commodity in the Klamath Basin this year, but the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath national wildlife refuges are wetter than they have been for years, federal officials say.

"Some people are telling me that this is as good as it looked five years ago," said Ron Cole, refuges manager. "It is certainly a change from when I got here a year ago."

Having water to spread across the refuges is considered critical in the weeks before the fall migration begins. But whether the water will be available from one year to the next remains questionable for two reasons.

First, federal water managers have a hard time predicting how much water will be available throughout the Klamath Basin.

Second, the refuges are at the end of the line for water in the Klamath Basin. Ahead of them are endangered sucker fishes in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, federal tribal trust responsibilities for the lake and river, irrigators and hydropower dams on the river.

Last year the refuges received very little water until the end of September.

This year has been different.

"They have gotten lots of water from us this fall," said Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

The refuges also got $70,000 from the Bureau of Reclamation to pay for groundwater pumping this fall, because the refuges provided 8,000 acre-feet of water to sustain higher flows in the Klamath River last spring.

Cole said the timing of water supplies for the refuges can be as important as the quantity of water.

"A lot of people have been learning that it is as important to us as to a farmer growing a crop," he said.

  • Local growers have played a significant role in procuring funding for development of dedicated refuge waters supplies and environmental projects.
  • Tulelake Irrigation District was a collaborator in the Sump 1B project and operates the water system for that project, which created an expansive new area of seasonal marsh on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Landowners are now working cooperatively with refuge managers to develop "walking wetlands", where wetlands and farming are being used in concert to restore agricultural soil fertility and restoring important habitat.
  • Local growers, irrigation districts, and lessees have been very cooperative in freeing up water and operating facilities in order to deliver water to Lower Klamath Refuge.
  • Local water users, Ducks Unlimited, and California Waterfowl Association have jointly proposed and pledged support for additional projects to benefit refuge water supplies and habitats.
  • Klamath Basin landowners are aggressively pursuing projects through funds earmarked by the 2002 federal Farm Bill for Klamath Basin water conservation efforts. Fifty million dollars in funding is being made available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the central conservation program of the Farm Bill. To date, over 800 applications for this program have been received in the Upper Klamath Basin for this project. This is remarkable, considering that landowners are required to pay 25% of the total costs with their own money.
  • Last year, the Klamath Water Users Association, who represents these irrigators, was awarded the 2003 Agriculture Progress Award for "Leadership in Conservation" by the State of Oregon.
  • KWUA on June 9, 2004 in Salem will receive another award of recognition for conservation efforts from Oregon Governor Theodore Kulongoski.
  • Tulelake Irrigation District was also recently presented with the prestigious F. Gordon Johnston Award in recognition for their innovative canal-lining project, which eliminates irrigation delivery water losses near the refuges.
  • This effort to develop solutions designed to comply with Endangered Species Act requirements while enabling farmers to continue to farm and to continue to support wetlands and wildlife is a delicately balanced activity.


Defenders of Wildlife View: "Farming has introduced carcinogenic pesticides that have poisoned birds and other wildlife in the Klamath refuges."


REALITY: After years of study, there has not been one shred of evidence to suggest pesticide use on the lease lands is detrimental to wildlife. California has the strictest pesticide regulations in the nation. And 90% of the pesticides registered for use in California, are disallowed on the lease lands. In fact, the previous Klamath Refuge Manager once stated, "we have done all sorts of monitoring . . . we have not found a smoking gun."

Defenders of Wildlife View: "A massive, century-old federal irrigation project has fostered unsustainable farming in the area, depleting water from the region’s lakes, rivers and wetlands".

REALITY: The Klamath Irrigation Project serves approximately 220,000 acres of small family farms and ranches in the Upper Klamath Basin. While this may seem like a large area to someone from Washington, D.C., it actually represents less than 2 percent of the land area of the 10.5 million acre Klamath River watershed. The Klamath Project – including the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges – deplete only 3 to 4 percent of total average annual Klamath River flows.

Defenders of Wildlife View: "The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s policies for the Klamath River led to as many as 35,000 salmon dying in 2002."

REALITY: A federal judge in 2003 found that conflicting facts about the fish die-off prevented her from reaching this conclusion. Further, a report prepared by the National Research Council (NRC) found no link between Klamath Project operations and the fish die-off, located over 200 miles downstream.

Defenders of Wildlife View: Sugar beets are grown on the lease lands.

REALITY: Actually, in part because the local processing plant shut down several years ago, sugar beets are no longer grown in this area.

Defenders of Wildlife View: "Marshes, wetlands & other resources are dying of thirst."

REALITY: While water was a fairly scarce commodity in the Klamath Basin this year, the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath national wildlife refuges are wetter than they have been for years, federal officials told the Klamath Falls Herald and News just two days ago. Excerpts from that article are included as an attachment in this advisory.

Further, in the past two years, nearly 90,000 acre-feet of water each year were reallocated away from the Klamath Project and towards environmental needs because farmers idled land and pumped their own groundwater, and because of proactive wildlife refuge management. The Project, including the refuges, consumptively uses 350,000 acre-feet of water in an average water year. This year, irrigators took actions that provided environmental water exceeding 25 percent of that value.

MYTH VS. FACT: Lease Land Farming Issues

Myth: Removing lease land farming creates additional water for the refuges.

FACT: Farming critics suggest that restricting agricultural production on the lease lands will provide more water for the refuges. This simple argument is simply incorrect because the Endangered Species Act, Tribal trust requirements and agricultural contracts take precedence over refuge wetlands.  Therefore, it's doubtful that removing lease land farming would produce additional water for the refuges.  Moreover, the lease lands consume less than 0.5 percent of the water generated in the entire Basin.

Due to the design and location of the lease lands in the Klamath Project delivery system, water used on the Tule Lake lease lands consists entirely of return flows or drainage from the private lands to the north. This means that a minimal amount of water utilized for irrigation of the lease lands is actually diverted from Upper Klamath Lake specifically for use on these lands. As a consequence, irrigation on the lease lands has little or no effect on the availability of water for fall flooding on the Lower Klamath NWR. Moreover, the refuges benefit from the high priority water rights of agriculture. If any "savings" were created, under state law that water would likely go to other, higher priority uses.

Finally, wetlands use more water than agricultural irrigation in the Tule Lake area (approx. 2.5 – 3.5 acre-feet per acre, as compared to 1.5 –2.5 acre-feet per acre, respectively), according to the University of California and Bureau of Reclamation. How will replacing farmland with flooded marshland contribute to meeting the overall water balance of the Klamath Basin?

Myth: Farming is entirely inconsistent with wildlife management.

FACT: Agriculture and wildlife management is not an either-or proposition. In fact, the opposite is true. Migrating waterfowl depend upon the cereal grains that are planted on 75% of the acreage of the lease lands, as required by federal law, for food and habitat. The row crops – the "potatoes, onions and alfalfa" of which environmental activists speak – can be planted on not more than 25% of the total lease land acreage. This is not a conflict, but a mutually beneficial relationship.

According to the California Waterfowl Association, "[f]or nearly 100 years, farmers and ranchers of the Klamath Basin have coexisted with immense populations of wildlife…. Klamath Basin agriculture provides a veritable nursery for wildlife."

Myth: The lease land program is inconsistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act.

FACT: A coalition of environmental groups raised similar arguments several years ago in Federal District Court, arguing that crops grown, pesticide use, extensive water use and poor water quality make this program incompatible with waterfowl purposes. The court rejected those arguments outright, upholding the Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination that the lease land program is entirely consistent and compatible with waterfowl management.

Klamath Refuge Manager Discusses Refuge Conditions with CWA

The California Waterfowl Association (CWA) recently conducted an interview with Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager Ron Cole. Mr. Cole’s full response is reprinted below.

Overall Habitat Conditions on the Refuges

Cole: Given that we have been working under a "dry water year scenario" as defined by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), we believe the refuges are looking very good at this point.  In fact, members of my staff and neighbors in the area who lived through the dismal and uncertain water conditions over the past few years have said that the refuges have not looked this good in 4-5 years.

Reasons for Success in 2004

Cole:  The refuges typically de-water our seasonal wetlands on Lower Klamath by June 1.  In the past few years, because of the water shortages, we recycled this water within the refuge for fear that we may not receive any summer inflows to maintain our permanent marshes.  This spring, we entered into an agreement with the BOR, sending that water
down the Klamath River in exchange for a consistent water delivery to Lower Klamath Refuge during the summer.  It helped the refuge create better seasonal wetlands with greater seed production.  As the seasonal wetland water was released, the BOR was able to convey it down the Klamath River at a time when endangered salmon smolts needed it most.   Because the refuge contributed this water, other users in the Klamath Project were not impacted as severely.

The BOR fulfilled their part of the agreement by providing a consistent delivery into Lower Klamath.  As a result, we were able to keep our
permanent marshes at full capacity all summer long, benefiting a wide diversity of wildlife including our pelican colony in Unit 2, and a diverse array of marsh and wading birds as well.   Last year, our permanent wetlands were so low that the submergent aquatic vegetation (such as sago pondweed) was almost nonexistent.  This really impacted divers such as canvasback and other waterfowl like widgeon and tundra swans.  This year, we have great sago beds and those species that rely on them should thrive.

Conditions in Tule Lake Refuge

Cole: On Tule Lake NWR, sump 1B is again the focal point for waterfowl.  This year, the water level in the sump will be higher than last, primarily because it was operated as a permanent marsh all summer.  The emergent tule growth is impressive, and the numbers of molting ducks was phenomenal. Because it was run as a permanent, the sago pondweed response was beyond anything we have seen.  The result should be lots of birds and a greater diversity of species using sump 1B this fall.

Klamath Refuge Manager Discusses Refuge Conditions with CWA


Partnerships Were Key

Cole: All in all, it was a team effort.  It could not have been accomplished without the cooperation of the agencies, the agricultural community, the local irrigation districts, and the support of groups such as CWA, the Cal/Or Waterfowl and Wetlands Council, the Klamath Water Users Association, the National Audubon Society, the Klamath Wing

Watchers, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.  We had many water users offering to donate water to the refuges this fall in case we were short, but because of the great cooperation earlier this year, we hope that won't be necessary. It helps to have such good friends.  Those who worked together on this now have a better understanding how critical the timing of water delivery is to the refuges in order for us to meet our wildlife objectives.

Optimistic Outlook for the Future

Cole: We know that our efforts this year won't solve all of the Klamath Refuge water issues.  But we are optimistic that those in Washington and at other levels in government may take a look at some of the cooperation that is emerging around these refuges.  Whether they do or not, the main thing is that working together, our migratory birds will benefit greatly, as will those of us who enjoy observing, hunting, and hearing the thundering wings of our fall friends as they return again.


This has been printed with permission of

California Waterfowl Association and Ron Cole.

Testimony of

Bill Gaines

Director, Government Affairs

California Waterfowl Association

Before the Committee on Resources

Subcommittee on Water and Power

United States House of Representatives

Klamath Oversight Field Hearing


"Some environmentalists, in their effort to protect both fish and wildlife, have sought to address this problem by calling for the complete elimination of agriculture in this Basin in order to redirect surface water to refuge wetlands.

Our Association, however, is here to tell you that the elimination of agriculture is not the answer.

In fact, eliminating agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin in an attempt to free up wetland water would substantially harm, not help Pacific Flyway waterfowl.

With three-quarters of our Upper Basin wetlands no longer available, it is crucial that we do all we can to manage the few habitats that remain in order to maximize their values and functions for waterfowl and other wildlife. Yet, even if we had sufficient annual Klamath Project water available to maximize the values of these few wetlands, we still could not meet the biological needs of the tremendous numbers of waterfowl that depend upon this region.

As such, similar to California’s Sacramento Valley where over one-half million acres of rice production provides vitally important surrogate habitat for waterfowl, cereal grains and other wildlife-friendly agriculture in this Basin are critical to meeting the annual needs of Pacific Flyway waterfowl."

Bill Gaines

July 17, 2004





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