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Festival takes in farmers' efforts too

Published February 10, 2005

By LEE JUILLERAT   Herald and News

Klamath Basin irrigators weary of "preaching to the choir" hope to find new audiences when they participate in the upcoming Winter Wings Festival.

"This is our opportunity to get our message out to a group of folks we normally wouldn't have conversation with," says Steve Kandra, president of the Klamath Basin Water Users Association, of the group's participation in a "Partnering Wetlands and Agriculture" workshop.

A new day-long workshop is set for 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, as part of the rejuvenated Winter Wings Festival, which runs Feb. 17 to 20. For the previous 25 years, the festival had been the Klamath Basin Bald Eagle Conference.

The partnering workshop is designed to inform festival participants, who are usually members of conservation groups such as the Audubon Society, about conservation efforts by farmers and irrigators, both as private individuals on private lands and as private individuals on public lands.

"We in the agricultural community feel we have a story to tell in regards to local waterfowl and wildlife assets," Kandra said.

The workshop's focus is a "walking wetland" program, which involves rotating areas of the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath national wildlife refuges between crop lands and wetlands to benefit agriculture and wildlife.

The two refuges lease 15,500 acres to farmers for agricultural production, as provided by the 1964 Kuchel Act. Agricultural production on the lease lands had a gross value of nearly $50 million in 1999 and generated $1.43 million in lease revenue.

Environmental groups have criticized the leasing practice, citing declines in land quality from years of planting and harvesting that has resulted in the increased need for fertilizer and pesticides.

To reduce pesticide use and risks to fish and wildlife, refuge managers in 1997 created an integrated pest management plan calling for the periodic flooding of agricultural lands to suppress soil diseases and pests.

"The intent is to go out in the field and look at what we're doing," said Dave Mauser, a wildlife biologist with the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, of the upcoming walking wetlands program. "We hope to get the word out about what we're developing with the growers."

Mauser said growers participating in the wetland-cropland program have found that following wetland cycles, the use of soil fumigants is not necessary, a savings of up to $200 an acre. Some crop yields have increased up to 25 percent.

"We get bangs for our bucks," said Kandra.

In addition, the Service's "Promoting Productive Wetland Habitats and Sustainable Agriculture" report says waterfowl use at Tule Lake has increased to levels not seen in 25 years. Increases have been especially notable for green-wing teal, pintail and white-fronted and snow/Ross geese.

"You put water on the wetlands and plants come very quickly," Mauser said.

The program has also been expanding to private lands and resulted in some lands producing certified organic crops of potatoes, onions and grain.

"It's one of the few examples where we have a win-win situation for everybody," Mauser said. "We're developing techniques we're hoping will have applicability to private lands."

The workshop will begin at the Best Western Olympic Inn in Klamath Falls. Vans will take participants to the Winema Hunting Lodge for a program overview by refuge manager Ron Cole, followed by bird watching, tours of refuge and private lands, and a brief visit to Mia and Pia's production micro-brewery. Vans will return to Klamath Falls about 4:30 p.m.

"Hopefully, what we'll be able to show are the benefits to farming and wildlife," Mauser said. "It's a very ecologically friendly way to do things."

For registration information see the Winter Wings Festival Web site at www.winterwingsfest.org. Information is also available from the Great Basin Visitor Association, 507 Main St., 882-1501. Cost for the workshop is $15 until Thursday, Feb. 10 and $20 after.

 

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