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ONRC Proposes Equitable Alternative to proposed Klamath Land-for-Water Deal

For Immediate Release: October 9, 2003

For More Information Contact:

Jim McCarthy, ONRC  - (541) 941-9450
Andy Kerr, ONRC  - (503) 701-6298
Jay Ward, ONRC  - (503) 283-6343 x 210

ONRC Proposes Equitable Alternative to proposed Klamath Land-for-Water Deal

Conservationists oppose White House-driven billion-dollar National Forest transfer

Today Oregon Natural Resources Council released a detailed proposal to equitably and openly address the wrongs suffered by The Klamath Tribes of Southern Oregon. Conservationists presented their plan as an alternative to a back-room effort spearheaded by the Bush administration which would transfer a Rhode Island-sized swath of Winema and Fremont National Forest to the Tribes in return for an agreement that the tribes will not pursue their claim on certain water rights. These water rights, coveted by Klamath Basin irrigators, are key to tribal efforts to recover endangered lake fish populations, an important cultural resource.

"America's native peoples have suffered greatly at the hands of the federal government and we believe The Klamath Tribes deserve justice" said Jay Ward, ONRC's Conservation Director. "The tribes should not be asked to give up their water rights, nor should the American people be asked to give up public lands, natural resources, and the priceless national forest legacy that belongs to all of us."

The roots of the current debate stretch back over a half-century. During the 1950's, Congress terminated The Klamath Tribes and, in a controversial series of transactions, bought much of the reservation lands. These former reservation lands were then designated as National Forests, while a smaller portion of the former reservation was sold to private individuals and corporations, among them timber companies.

The tribes now seek approximately 690,000 acres (1,000 + square miles) of the Winema and Fremont National Forest for a new reservation. Such a transfer to tribal ownership would mean a loss of legal protections for over 136,000 acres of old-growth forest, over 47,000 acres of roadless areas suitable for wilderness designation, and nearly 10,000 acres of threatened bald eagle habitat. Moreover, access to nearly 60,000 acres of big game habitat may be lost. Under management plans currently proposed by the tribes, logging would increase 13% from recent levels. As a sovereign nation, The Klamath Tribes would change management plans for the forest. Future generations of Americans would be limited in their ability to challenge or modify those plans. There would be no guarantee that future tribal governments would not liquidate large tracts of old-growth forest to maintain a tribal economy.

The ONRC plan proposes a Congressionally-managed public process which would determine the full extent of damages to which The Klamath Tribes and individual tribal members may be entitled. After determination of damages, The Klamath Tribes and its members could choose to set up a permanent fund to support tribal services, purchase former reservation lands currently owned by private parties, or accept payments in cash. Public lands, including National Forest lands, would not be eligible for purchase. Additionally, Klamath County would receive a one-time payment to compensate for any tax revenues lost as a result of the reservation restoration. Finally, the plan calls for legislation mandating fuller cooperation between the U.S. Forest Service and The Klamath Tribes in managing the Winema and Fremont National Forest.

The conservationists believe their plan offers the greatest certainty to the greatest number of Americans, and makes the most economic sense. "Trading National Forest lands worth between 1 and 2 billion dollars to free up irrigation water for private lands worth 300 million dollars is a bad deal," said Andy Kerr, ONRC's Senior Counselor. "Even if The Klamath Tribes give up all their water rights, the water needs of the Klamath's six National Wildlife Refuges, endangered species, and downriver fishing communities are not going away."

"An equitable remedy to this injustice requires an open public process, not closed meetings and back-room deals," said Jim McCarthy, Policy Analyst for ONRC. "We call on the Bush administration to stop playing politics with this important issue, and help craft a solution that serves the interests of all Americans."



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