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Judge transfers Klamath Tribes' lawsuit to Oregon court, denies injunction

Judge William H. Orrick has denied the motion for preliminary injunction to protect endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker, and granted a motion to transfer the case to an Oregon court, according to the opinion Orrick released Wednesday.

Klamath Water Users Association, a defendant-intervenor, posted about the decision to its Facebook page after 7 p.m. Wednesday. Sunnyside Irrigation District and Ben DuVal are also intervenors.

The case involves the Klamath Tribes lawsuit filed against the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service. The Tribes are seeking better management of water levels, water quality and habitat protection in Upper Klamath Lake. The legal action seeks to ensure the Lost River and shortnose sucker, listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, survive a devastating drought year.

“While venue may be proper in the Northern District of California, it is more appropriate in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon: the Klamath Tribes are headquartered there, the sucker fish are there, the Upper Klamath Lake is there, and the Bureau and the FWS have offices there,” Orrick stated in the ruling.

"I will let the transferee court address the pleadings as it will.”

Orrick’s jurisdiction is the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Orrick emphasized the health of the Lost River and shortnose sucker as being of “paramount importance” under the Endangered Species Act, and called for urgent attention to the matter.

“There is a reason for all parties to give urgent focus to the health of the sucker fish,” Orrick said.

“There is substantial disagreement whether the lake elevation level is causing injury to the sucker fish, but there is no doubt that granting a mandatory injunction that cuts off water to the Klamath Irrigation District will cause substantial harm to others that depend on it, including wildlife refuges, farmers, and ranchers.”

Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, expressed disappointment, and said legal counsel continues to review the 29-page ruling.

“Obviously we’ll be prepared to make our case and do our best to move forward, and make sure we do everything we can to protect the fish,” Gentry said.

“We’re really concerned about this year. Obviously this delays any significant change in what was planned for lake levels this year.”

Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the association is pleased with the decision to transfer the case to Oregon. White said the venue for the case could be in Eugene, but said there is no timeline at this point.

“This has been an extremely stressful summer,” White said. “Just given the drought and of course this litigation adding to the mix. I am very, very happy for my guys. That they’re going to be able to irrigate for the remainder of the summer.”

That being said, White emphasized a continued desire by the association to meet with the Tribes.

“We still remain ready to sit down with the Klamath Tribes and discuss matters related to sucker whenever they’re ready,” White said.




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