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Refuge managers, farmers, find common interest

Herald and News November 1, 2004

By Jacqui Krizo
Guest columnist

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a tour of the Lower Klamath Refuge recently. How refreshing to be among new management with the attitude of working with the farmers to form solutions which are benefiting wildlife, farms and water quality, rather than trying to find ways, as in past management, to eliminate the local farms and economy.

This spring the farmers, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation formed a partnership regarding water management of the refuges. Unlike before, the Bureau of Reclamation was flexible in its water allocation. The Fish and Wildlife Service in May and June dewatered a seasonal wetlands, a necessary event, sending 10,000 acre-feet of water down the Klamath River to meet requirements of the biological opinion.

Remember, this opinion was created from the agenda-driven Hardy studies. Dr. Thomas Hardy of Utah State University was hired by the Department of Justice and Bureau of Indian Affairs to go against the farmers in the water adjudication litigation.

This lake level-river flow management scheme was not peer-reviewed, and later was considered unjust by the National Academy of Science and other studies. We are still being forced to abide by this opinion, even though proven flawed, and even though the river flow is 30 percent higher now than is was before the Klamath Project was built, according to the Bureau of Reclamation undepleted flow study.

The past few years when the Fish and Wildlife Service dewatered a wetland, it has been forced to recirculate other wetland and irrigation water, which, like last year, causes poor water quality. This year some of this water was returned by Bureau of Reclamation from fresh sources to rewater the wetland, so consequently the water quality now is good. And this year our permanent wetlands remain in great shape, with three times as much wetlands as last year.

Timing is important

As refuge manager Ron Cole stated, it isn't so much about how much water as about the timelines and water management. And they need to time the water deliveries to offset evaporation from the wetlands.

Last summer it was so shallow it affected much of the wildlife, such as swans and diver ducks. Cooperation and flexibility this summer provided the 2-1/2 feet of water needed.

As we were viewing the wetlands, several kids appeared, lugging big geese. It was the opening weekend for the annual youth hunt. According to the refuge managers, this is the way to get our youth out on the refuges with the birds and other wildlife. They learn about what it takes from our communities to support and understand water and wildlife management. Most of the income to help support our wetland projects comes from hunting advocate groups who make it possible to create and sustain wildlife habitat.

Of the 50,000 acres on Lower Klamath refuge, 25,000 acres are open to waterfowl harvest. On 39,000 acres of Tulelake refuge, 40 percent is available to hunting.

Dave Mauser, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, explained that the seasonal marshes provide food for birds and also succession. This is cost- effective, providing bird feed and reducing water need in the summer. The farmers leave a fourth of their crops for the birds.

After the fields have been under a wetlands for two years in a rotating wetland regime, they are ready to be certified organic by the next person who farms this ground.

On Lower Klamath alone this year, more than 2,500 acres were grown organically. Yields of grain grown organically were about as high per acre as conventional farming, but the price for organic grain was twice as high as conventional. An additional benefit to farmers is having wetlands on this farmland occasionally will eliminate many of the crop pests and diseases.

The seasonal marshlands also provide 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of seeds per acre, which feeds many birds. Farmed grain crops provide about the same tonnage for the birds, all being essential to feeding the wildlife. On refuge and non-refuge land, when there is no water, there are no crops or bird feed. This decimates much of our local wildlife.

Farms, refuges essential

Since this is most important migratory bird flyway in the West, keeping our farms and refuges whole is essential to our waterfowl. Fran Mais, from the Fish and Wildlife Service, said certain species prefer grain, and refuges need different grains and seeds for the different species. The potato crops feed white-fronted geese. And pronghorn antelope have been seen by the refuge manager eating onion tops. According to Mais, "You need the mix."

Mauser said that 640 acres of burned seasonal marsh, leaving clumps of stubble, will bring more than a thousand sandhill cranes when flooded. There are only 3,500 to 4,000 threatened cranes in California, and 1,500 come here.

Fortunately for our farm community and our refuges, Manager Ron Cole sees the advantage of working with local community members rather than viewing them as enemies. He realizes that we grow more than 50 percent of the wildlife food, and we use less water to sprinkle our crops than wetlands consume. He also knows with past roots here, that most farmers are conscientious caretakers of the resources and wildlife.

With his foresight in working with the community to identify and achieve common goals, our resources can better be used to achieve these goals rather than to fight frivolous lawsuits by agenda-driven "environmental" groups and government agencies. In addition we have Klamath Water Users Executive Director Dan Keppen, a past manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, who realizes the importance of working together with common goals of preserving wildlife while at the same time preserving agriculture.

Thanks to managers like Cole and Keppen, yes, even in this agenda-attacked Klamath Basin, there is still hope.

The author Jacqui Krizo of Tulelake and her husband, David, manage the www.klamathbasincrisis.org Web site, which was begun in 2001 when irrigation water was cut off on the Klamath Reclamation Project. Her parents won a World War II homestead in Tulelake in 1949. David Krizo's parents homesteaded in 1947.






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