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Endangered species controversy rages on the Klamath River
November 14, 2005 by Wendy Kull/Today correspondent
Pesticides; herbicides adversely affect traditional gathering

TRINIDAD, Calif. - The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, currently provides federal protection for more than 300 species of plants and animals in California.

At the heart of the ESA controversy currently raging before Congress is the charge that the law does not consider or mitigate economic losses.

House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., introduced radical changes to the ESA with House Bill 3824. The bill has passed the House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The bill promises to pay private landowners market value for their land affected by the ESA. However, it also throws out the ''critical habitat'' portion of the law, essentially ripping out the law's heart.

Many, including American Indians, have been affected by the ESA.

People are unemployed and land development is at a standstill, say Pombo supporters.

Tribes, environmentalists, commercial fishermen and others say critical habitat is crucial for species to survive.

Sea lions and grizzly bears in northern California are federally protected under the ESA but, according to tribal members, seem to be doing pretty well on the Yurok Reservation.

Fishermen complain that sea lions can quickly empty their nets: ''I'll have about 20 in there, then I see the shadow ... and pull [the net] as fast as I can ... I'll be lucky to get three in the boat,'' said Yurok fisherman David Gensaw Sr.

Perhaps most frustrating for fishermen is the sea lion's seemingly wasteful nature: they tend to take one bite then discard the rest.

People say that bears ransack their homes in search of food, ripping siding off houses and breaking windows to gain entry, and leaving quite a mess in the kitchen.

This is nothing new in Yurok country, because sea lions and grizzlies have always been part of Yurok life on the Klamath River. Yurok men transform sea lion pelts into ceremonial drums, and bears are considered reincarnated relatives.

However, pesticides and herbicides are a new addition to Yurok lifeways.

Pesticides and herbicides were not considered under the original ESA law. But in the case of Washington Toxics Coalition v. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. District Court of western Washington ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to include pesticides within the scope of the ESA when considering the critical habitat of threatened and endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead - 26 species in total.

Chief Judge John Coughenour handed down the January 2004 order concerning pesticide usage and, according to the EPA, ''This order is in effect until the Environmental Protection Agency and, when appropriate, the National Marine Fisheries Service have completed an evaluation of whether endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead are sensitive to exposure from 55 pesticides.''

Coughenour also ordered interim buffer zones to protect salmon-supporting waters in Washington, Oregon and California.

Green Diamond Resource Co. (formerly known as Simpson Resource Co.) owns vast amounts of land in the West, including nearly two-thirds of the Yurok Reservation. The company has sprayed the land, by ground and by air, for more than 20 years. Green Diamond provides a ''24-hour notice'' before aerial spraying, giving tribal members one day to either leave or hunker down.

The prized Chinook salmon, which happen to be central to Yurok diet and culture, is federally protected in other parts of California, but not in the Klamath River. Many, including environmentalists, are confident that Klamath Chinook will be listed in the near future.

Basketry is also an integral part of Yurok culture. Along with traditional foods, pesticides cover basket and other materials as they grow: and then people gather the material. According to its Web site, the California Indian Basketweavers Association reports complaints of respiratory ailments, heart disease and cancer in communities surrounding the Lower Klamath River. United Indian Health Services has issued warnings concerning the possible health hazards associated with collecting traditional materials.



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