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Nine Wildlife Organizations Urge Wyden to Act on Klamath Refuges


June 20, 2013

Steve Pedery
(503) 283-6343, ext. 212

Sean Stevens
(503) 283-6343, ext. 211

Nine Wildlife Organizations Urge Wyden to Act on Klamath Refuges
National coalition of conservation groups highlight plight of Klamath National Wildlife
Refuges; urge Wyden to re-introduce 2002 Klamath reform legislation.

Portland, Oregon  —  A coalition of nine national, regional and local conservation groups representing hundreds of thousands of people across America today urged Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden to pursue federal legislation to ensure water flows to parched National Wildlife Refuges in the Klamath Basin. The organizations sent a letter for the official record in a hearing on the Klamath Basin that Senator Wyden is holding in his Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.

"Today the Klamath Basin is facing one of the worst droughts on record, and the problem is largely man-made," said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. “Had Congress passed Senator Wyden's 2002 proposal to bring demand for water in the Klamath back into balance with supply, we would not be in this mess today."

In 2002, Senator Wyden offered an amendment to the Farm Bill, which was also supported by former Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, and by Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein of California. Wyden's amendment would have created a voluntary demand reduction program for the Klamath Basin, where private water right holders could enroll in a program to retire their claims to water, and receive fair market value compensation in exchange. The retirement of these water rights would have reduced the overall demand for water, ensuring that more of this precious resource is available for National Wildlife Refuges, salmon, and agricultural interests in the Klamath Basin.

Decisions by the Obama administration and US Bureau of Reclamation to prioritize water for Klamath agribusiness over water for wildlife and wetlands has made the drought especially severe for America's National Wildlife Refuges. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge currently has just 1,000 acres of wetlands with water, in an area that should support 31,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

The current water crisis facing the refuge comes after several years of man-made drought conditions. In the fall of 2011, the Bureau provided just 10,000 acre-feet of water to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge during the critical fall migration period. In the past, refuge biologists believed a minimum of 32,000 acre feet was needed to sustain bald eagles on the refuge. 2012 again saw severe drought conditions on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, leading to a disease outbreak on Lower Klamath that killed over 20,000 migratory birds.  Refuge managers fear a repeat of wildlife-killing conditions in 2013.

To make matters worse, the so-called "lease-land farming program," which allows over 20,000 acres of National Wildlife Refuge land to be leased to local agribusiness interests, continues despite the severe drought conditions. These commercial crops displace wetland habitat for wildlife and reduce water supplies. In drought years, these commercially-leased lands often receive full irrigation water deliveries even as adjacent National Wildlife Refuge wetlands are cut off by the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Please click here to read the letter from the coalition to Senator Wyden.

Please click here for photos from Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge this spring (credit to Oregon Wild).



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