Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

 U.S. wildlife refuges facing threats
Seattle Post-Intelligencer AP Oct 8, 2004

U.S. wildlife refuges facing threats


  Two scimitar-horned oryx explore their new habitat at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004. These endangered animals came to the National Zoo from the zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. where they were part of an international breeding program. Oryx are native to the northern African savannah and are nearly extinct in the wild. The only existing wild population is a result of a reintroduction program in Tunisia. (AP Photo/ National Zoo, Jessie Cohen)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A sweeping wildlife preserve in southwestern Arizona is among the nation's 10 most endangered refuges, due in large part to illegal drug and immigrant traffic and Border Patrol operations, a conservation group said Friday.

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, home to the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, has been damaged by excessive human presence, according to a report by Defenders of Wildlife. The report calls for construction of a vehicle barrier on the southern edge of the refuge along the Mexican border.

"We're trying to highlight the fact how special this place is, but it's also at a crossroads," said Noah Matson, a Defenders of Wildlife director in Washington who wrote "Refuges at Risk: America's Ten Most Endangered National Wildlife Refuges 2004."

Arizona has become the nation's busiest entry point for illegal immigrants from Mexico. High-speed off-road chases, abandoned vehicles and damage to fragile desert landscapes have resulted. In 2001, Cabeza became the site of Arizona's deadliest border crossing, when 14 people died after temperatures soared to 115 degrees.

"In an attempt to curb illegal border crossings and prevent further deaths, border officials have established permanent camps in the refuge, incongruous with this once-pristine and remote place, but reflecting the intensity of the problem," the report said.

A call to the Border Patrol office in Tucson was not immediately returned Friday.

The 10 wildlife preserves cited Friday face some common threats, including nearby development, pollution and invasive species, according to the report. Escalating industrial and corporate development close to and even inside refuges is the most pervasive threat, now that about three dozen refuges have more than 1,800 active oil and gas wells, the report said.

Besides Cabeza, the preserves on the list: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska; Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana; Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Nevada; Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, California; Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, Oregon and California; Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota; Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Texas; Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina; and Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa.


The United States has 540 wildlife refuges encompassing nearly 100 million acres. Half of the endangered refuges in Friday's report are in the West.

Roger Di Rosa, Cabeza Prieta's manager, said the report is right about the threat to the refuge. Officials estimate the population of Sonoran pronghorns at 30 to 40 animals at most.

"The border issue is convoluted, and very complex," he said. "The solution to the border problems is not on the border; it's in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City. So we're just putting a Band-Aid on the wound to stanch the blood. It's a difficult situation."


On the Net:

National Wildlife Refuge System: http://refuges.fws.gov/

Defenders of Wildlife study: http://www.defenders.org/refuges

The entire report:  http://www.defenders.org/habitat/refuges/report.pdf

Klamath Refuge report copied below:  http://www.defenders.org/habitat/refuges/10/pdf/kla.pdf

Thousands of salmon died in the severely low Klamath River in 2002. ©AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS Ross’ geese at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. ©U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Straddling the Oregon-California border, the Klamath Basin
refuge complex comprises six national wildlife refuges tied
together by the Klamath River: Klamath Marsh, Upper
Klamath, Lower Klamath, Tule Lake, Bear Valley and Clear Lake. The
basin once contained more than 350,000 acres of marshlands,
lakes, rivers and wetlands, but these have been largely drained and
filled for agriculture and development. Today, the six refuges are only
remnants of this once-vast wetland network, but they remain critical
for wildlife. Eighty percent of the birds in the Pacific Flyway funnel
through the basin, whose wetlands draw staggering numbers of
ducks and geese — well into the millions. As many as 1,000 bald
eagles can be seen flying to and from their winter roosts — the
greatest concentration of these majestic birds found outside Alaska.
The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge was the first refuge set
aside expressly to protect waterfowl, and now is also considered an
essential area for snow, Ross’, white-fronted, Canada and emperor
geese, and more than 20 duck species. Without these refuges we
could literally lose the birds of the West Coast.


Although water is scarce throughout the
West, the water shortage in the Klamath
River Basin is particularly severe — and the
pressures on the refuge complex are mounting.
A massive, century-old federal irrigation
project has fostered unsustainable farming
in the area, depleting water from the
region’s lakes, rivers and wetlands and
upsetting the natural balance of the ecosystem.
As a result, the basin has lost 80 percent
of its original wetlands.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s policies for the Klamath
River led to as many as 35,000 salmon dying while attempting to
reach their spawning grounds in 2002 as the river fell to extremely low
levels. The Klamath refuges didn’t fare much better. Severed from natural
water flows, they are last in line behind irrigation projects — meaning
that marshes, wetlands and other resources are dying of thirst.
To make matters worse, thousands of acres within the refuge
complex are leased for commercial agricultural operations. Forty-four
percent of Tule Lake refuge and 28 percent of Lower Klamath refuge
is farmed. Lands that should be set aside for wildlife are being used
to grow crops such as potatoes and onions, which have few wildlife
benefits. Even though refuge wetlands are supposed to get priority
for water flows in times of drought, the refuge’s leased farms have
won out in recent years. In addition to using precious water
resources, farming has also introduced carcinogenic pesticides that
have poisoned birds and other wildlife in the Klamath refuges.


The Fish and Wildlife Service will decide this
coming year whether to reauthorize the leasing
of refuge lands for agriculture. Crops
such as onions, sugar beets and potatoes,
which are of little or no value to wildlife and
require toxic pesticides, should be eliminated
from refuges immediately. Commercial agriculture
within the national wildlife refuges
should be phased out and refuge lands
should be returned to their natural conditions.
Finally, a more natural water cycle should be
restored on lands within the present boundaries
of the Klamath Basin refuges.

A pair of bald eagles. ©JOHN ALVES

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted
material  herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have
expressed  a  prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit
research and  educational purposes only. For more information go to:

Outgoing mail is certified Virus Free.
Checked by McAfee VirusScan
Installed September 7, 2003 - Updated October 1, 2004






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2004, All Rights Reserved