GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Interior Secretary Gale
Norton said Tuesday she is considering giving
Klamath Tribes back their reservation lands as part
of a strategy to balance water needs in the
Northwest's drought-stricken Klamath River Basin.
The tribes' have had a long-standing desire to get
back 692,000 acres of reservation lands liquidated
by the federal government. The land is now part of
the Winema and Fremont national forests.
``Klamath Tribes have property rights that must be
respected and interests that must be honored as we
develop solutions,'' Norton said in a statement from
Interior Department officials will meet with tribe
members as part of a Cabinet-level task force's
effort to assure water for farmers as well as fish
and wildlife, said agency spokesman Mark Pfeifle.
Tribal Chairman Allen Foreman pledged full
cooperation to Norton and the task force. The tribes
believe that if their land was returned, they could
manage it better than the forest service, ultimately
improving the ecosystem and resolving the water
When drought made water supplies tight last spring,
the Endangered Species Act required the federal
government to hold back water from the Klamath
Reclamation Project, a federal irrigation system
serving 220,000 acres of farmland straddling the
Oregon-California border. The water was dedicated to
endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and
threatened salmon in the Klamath River.
The irrigation shut-off produced a long summer of
confrontations among farmers, the tribes,
conservationists and the federal government over how
to allocate the basin's waters.
The Klamath Water Users Association - representing
farmers and businesses dependent on the Klamath
Project - grudgingly supported talks between the
Interior Department and the tribes.
``We are supportive that the secretary is willing to
sit down with folks,'' said Executive Director Dan