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Time runs out for federal dollars on Klamath

Tam Moore Oregon Staff Writer 6/24/05

YREKA, Calif. Ė A 20-year program to restore Klamath River fisheries is running out of time, and more specifically, money. But when the Klamath River Fisheries Task Force met here last week, it got no guidance on the future from either state or federal governments.

ďI donít think anybody out there knows where we are going,Ē said John Engbring, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service executive from Sacramento who is chairman of the task force, a federal advisory committee.

Along with the 20-year-old authorization aimed at managing anadromous fisheries on the main-stem Klamath, the law assigned $1 million a year through 2006. That created a comprehensive restoration plan, and supplements state and federal data collection on the Klamath and its tributaries.

Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermenís Association pointed out that thereís no sunset for the task force or the companion Klamath Fish Management Council Ė just no money after next year.

The larger issue is whoís coordinating Klamath issues that jumped into the national spotlight in 2001 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reneged on its contract with Klamath Project irrigation districts. Water, short because of drought, was reserved as habitat for three fish species under Endangered Species Act protection. Farmers seized part of the ground holding the BuRecís main diversion point, gaining national publicity.

In addition to the task force, there are federal advisory committees for the Trinity River, the Klamathís largest tributary, and the upper basin which lies mostly in Oregon. Thereís an interstate compact between California, Oregon and the federal government, and a cabinet-level federal Klamath committee that hasnít met in months. On top of that, after the much-celebrated governorís announcement of a new state-federal Klamath group in 2004, itís never held a public meeting within the 10-million-acre watershed.

Irma Lagomarsino, the NOAA Fisheries Klamath coordinator, told the task force solutions lie with the stakeholders, perhaps using BuRecís still-in-draft Conservation Implementation Plan as the vehicle.

ďIf we donít form some coalition of farmers and environmentalists, and (American Indian) tribes, we arenít going to get anywhere,Ē said Alice Kilham, a Klamath County businesswoman and chairman of the compact commission.

She said the commission canít meet. The Oregon representative from Department of Water Resources canít travel because state budgets arenít settled. California government, she said, seems confused by the 2004 governorís agreement added atop the federal task forces and the compact.

Engbring said if it takes political action to resolve funding, stakeholders must count out himself and other federal officials. By law they canít politick.

Keith Wilkinson of Myrtle Point, Ore., a long-time task force member representing Oregonís commercial fishermen, said he gets no interest in a legislative renewal.

ďMy congressman, he just kind of hopes it will go away,Ē said Wilkinson.

While the future is murky both the task force staff at USFWS and the congressional Government Accountability Office are looking at whatís been accomplished in the past 20 years. GAO exit interviews were last week and the report is expected to become public by late summer. The USFWS achievement report comes out in the fall.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His email address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.
John Engbring, chairman of the Klamath Fisheries Management Task Force, tells members there's no direction on what happens when federal funds expire in October 2006.
Lost data
For the better part of a decade when the U.S. Geological Survey has said thereís not enough money to keep collecting streamflow data on the troubled Klamath River, budget writers at the Klamath Fisheries Task Force have juggled funds to sustain the effort.

When California Department of Fish and Game was in the recent tight budget squeeze, task force money kept some fish counting teams in place.

ďIs there anything coming down the line,Ē asked Neil Manji, lead Klamath DFG biologist, as he heard about the uncertain future of task force funding.

Manji last week urged the task force to list what will be lost if the regular appropriation vanishes. Instead, by consensus they decided to concentrate on a fall, 2005 report on accomplishments.

Among the non-accomplishments after 20 years is continued listing of Klamath coho salmon as in danger of extinction, and jousting Ė sometimes in court Ė over allocation of water releases from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation storage on the mainstem Klamath and the Trinity River.





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