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 Herald and News: Klamath Falls, Oregon

It's final: No basis for cutoff

Published October 22, 2003


The National Research Council is sticking by its story: There was no good scientific basis for the water shutoff of 2001.

In its final report about coho salmon in the Klamath River and suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, the Council reaffirmed preliminary findings from January 2002 and made numerous recommendations for helping to restore suckers and salmon and get them off the list of endangered species.

The council released its final report Tuesday, and the chairman of its study committee, William Lewis, held a press conference about it.

The panel reiterated that there is no evidence of a "causal connection" between water levels in Up-per Klamath Lake and the welfare of its suckers, or that higher flows on the river help salmon.

It also found that there was no scientific evidence to support lowering the bar for the lake level and flow targets set in the biological opinions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2002.

To help the fish, there needs to be more organization and cohesive plans for projects in the Basin, Lewis said.

He also called for more consistent financial support from the federal government. Funding for projects in the Basin has been erratic and "crisis-based," he said.

He said the report's recommendations for studies and actions could lead to a better Basin for fish.

"The environment hasn't been good in the past, and I hope our report makes the environment better in the future," Lewis said.

Restoration of wetland vegetation in the Williamson River estuary and northern parts of Upper Klamath Lake.

Screening intakes at the Link River Dam.

Ridding Lake of the Woods of exotic game fishes and replacing them with native suckers.

The council also called for recovery plans for the suckers and salmon within the next two years and for many other studies. Things the council proposes for study include:

Removing Iron Gate Dam, the main flow-regulating dam on the Klamath River, and other blockages on the streams and rivers that lead into the river.

Shutting down the hatchery at Iron Gate Dam for three years to see how coho salmon respond to the reduced competition with chinook salmon.

Detailed comparisons of sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake with those in Gerber Reservoir and Clear Lake, where sucker populations have been stable.

The council estimated that the research, monitoring and remediation called for in its report would cost about $25 million to $35 million over the next five years, not including the cost of major projects such as dam removal.

The committee also addressed the issue of last fall's fish kill of about 33,000 salmon, mostly chinook, on the lower reaches of the Klamath River.

According to the report "neither the flows nor temperatures that occurred during the fish kill were unprecedented, and the committee agreed that neither flow nor temperature conditions alone can explain the fish kill."

This conclusion clashes with the analysis of California officials. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to issue its findings.

The committee said the fish kill could have been caused by changes in the river's channel that caused blockages and by hot nights that led to warm water temperatures, but there is not enough data available to make definitive conclusions.

On Tuesday, environmental groups, federal agencies and agricultural groups started picking and combing through the report.

Many of the groups were quick to flag and tout the parts of the report that support their actions or views.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said Basin water users are encouraged.

"The report shows that recovery of endangered cohos and suckers cannot be achieved solely by actions focused on the Klamath Reclamation Project," he said.

He said the water users could use the report as a "hammer" to go after other groups, down the Klamath River and above Upper Klamath Lake, but he would rather work with the groups to get them online with restoration.

Glen Spain, spokesman for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman Associations, said the report has something for everyone.

He liked the long-term studies and recommendations for the river offered by the Council, but wanted to see more things that could be done right away. He said the Council's view that restoration needs to be done basinwide could lead to bickering about who needs to do what.

"My fear is that this will lead to circular finger pointing. My hope is that this will give something for everyone to work on together," he said.

He said the report doesn't relieve the Klamath Reclamation Project from responsibility for the endangered fish.

"It doesn't get them off the hook, it just puts everyone else on the same hook," he said.

One thing all the groups agree on, and the report recommends as an action is the removal of Chiloquin Dam.

Lewis said the dam blocks suckers from 90 percent of their spawning habitat on the Sprague River and it should be taken out.

"It could be the first step toward restoring sucker habitat that has been blocked out for several years," he said.

The release of the report was important all the way to the top of the Bush administration.

Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton said:

"We agree with the council that the recovery of coho salmon and the two suckers cannot be achieved through actions primarily focused on the Klamath project, but require a broader approach that includes the participation of a wide range of stakeholders in the Basin."

Bill Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, echoed Norton's sentiments in a press release.

He said:

"We are also pleased that the Council report praised the collaborative process among the agencies in developing the 2002 biological opinions and validated the approach to protecting species under the ESA," he said.

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