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Refuge report earns an F

'These are desperate people doing a desperate thing.'

By Kehn Gibson Editor

Klamath Courier

13 October 2004 Edition

TULELAKE - A report lamenting the conditions on the Klamath Basin refuges issued by a lobbying group in Washington, D.C. has left environmental groups, farmers, and a couple of birdwatchers visiting the Basin flabbergasted in its wake.

"My association works very closely with the California chapter of the Defenders of Wildlife, and they tell me they had no idea this report was forthcoming," said Bill Gaines, the California Waterfowl Association's director of governmental affairs. "They told me they weren't even consulted on it."

"These are desperate people doing a desperate thing," said farmer Steve Kandra, whose grandfather homesteaded in the Klamath Basin in 1911. "This report misrepresents all the work people have done here, and all the results that are here to be seen."

The results Kandra referred to were witnessed Sunday by two first time visitors to the Basin from the San Francisco Bay area.

"This is one of the prettiest places I have ever been," said Gary Palmer, visiting the Basin with his wife, Cheryl. "We just watched a kingfisher catch a fish, and we saw a yellow rumped warbler a bit earlier."

"We saw a lot of birds today we have never seen before," said Cheryl, like Gary a birding enthusiast. "This place is wonderful, and I really mean it is filled with wonderous things."

The Palmers were aghast when told of an error-filled report issued Friday by the home office of Defenders of Wildlife, a group whose national office is based in Washington, D.C. The report lists the ten "most endangered refuges" in the United States, and the six refuges that comprise the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges are listed among them. "That doesn't make sense," said Gary Palmer, shaking his head.

The complex includes the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges, currently awash in water, birds, and proactive efforts to make them even healthier.

The report's errors range from the most basic - stating that sugar beets are still grown in the Basin although none have been grown here in more than five years since market pressures caused a local processing plant to close down - to claims that Kandra called "inciteful."

"This report indicates to me that they are trying to incite a particular audience," Kandra said. "And the misrepresentations in their report indicates to me they will not let truth stand in their way."

The report states that farming has introduced "carcinogenic pesticides that have poisoned birds and other wildlife in the Klamath refuges." In fact, in more than a decade on monitoring, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists have found no evidence - none - that either waterfowl or native wildlife have died of anything beyond natural pathogens. A monitoring project last year involved placing rubber bands around the necks of young starlings nesting near the refuge so that samples of the worms brought back to the nest by the parents could be laboratory tested in the latest such study.

None were found.

Don't tell PETA, but in addition to the food testing the brains of the baby birds were also sampled, and no pesticides were found.

That is not a surprise to Kandra, who noted that the state of California has the most restrictive regulations on pesticide use in the United States, and of the pesticides allowed for use in the state only 10 percent can be used on ground adjacent to the refuges.

The report also states the refuges are "dying of thirst," yet an innovative partnership fostered last fall by refuge manager Ron Cole led to the replacing of stagnant marsh water in the refuge's permanent wetlands by fresh water supplied by the Bureau of Reclamation and local farmers. The water recycling has brought about a "blooming" of the refuge's potential, Cole has said on the record.

But don't ask Cole for proof, ask the Palmers. Or ask Dawnn Brown, in charge of bringing tourists to the Basin.

"I challenge any one to come here and see what our area offers," Brown said. "This report is in blatant disregard of what this area offers, and of the people who live here. Just come and see for yourself. We will make them feel welcome, and they will see for themselves this is a paradise for birds and the people who want to see them."

The Defenders of Wildlife report continues, stating " a massive, century-old federal irrigation project has fostered unsustainable farming in the area..." Truth is, the Klamath Project was initiated by private entrepreneurs and taken over by the Bureau in 1905. As such, the Project barely rates a mention in the book "Cadillac Desert" by Marc Reisner, a damning indictment of the Bureau's practices first published in 1986. The Klamath Project didn't fit Reisner's book because it is a model of efficiency, with the common drop of water being recycled seven times before it is returned to the Klamath River.

In addition, Klamath Project agricultural operators, in concert with a renewed energy among federal managers, are on the forefront of new ideas and new models to maintain the Basin's history of maintaining the symbiotic relationship between commercial food production and healthy wildlife populations.

Among those new models is a concept called "Walking Wetlands," where productive fields are allowed to return to marshes while marshes are drained to replace the agricultural ground required under the Kuchel Act of 1964.

"This is so new, there are no rules yet," said Cole, whose administration of the refuges has brought fire from groups opposed to commercial use of federal lands and high praise from those who love birds and wildlife. "What is most exciting to me is the buy in from private landowners."

Kandra is just one of those landowners.

"I have seen a huge sea change in the current administration from the last eight years," Kandra said, watching white front geese fly from a wetland he had farmed for barley a few years previous. "This administration gets a lot of flak for its environmental record, yet the improvement here is because this administration pushes for local solutions, and the solutions are working. It's all new for them, but they are talking about developing new tools to deal with current realities, and that was unheard of under the previous administration.

"A report like this flies in the face of what Defenders of Wildlife purport to be advocates for," Kandra continued. "It is a giant step backward in the ongoing effort to make the refuges all they can be."

But don't listen to Kandra, a farmer and member of the Klamath Water Users Association. And don't listen to the national office of the Defenders of Wildlife. Listen to Gary Palmer, who until Sunday had never seen the Tulelake Refuge.

"This place is amazing," Palmer said, standing not 100 yards from the refuge's headquarters.





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