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Tule Lake Migratory Bird Festival a Success

FWS wildlife biologist/tour guide John Beckstrand feels solution is farmer buy-out;
FWS manager commends farmers on outstanding work

by KBC News 5/22/04

More than 700 visitors turned out for an awesome day of birding tours, slide presentations, booths, waterfowl film, and Mexican dance. The firemen held a barbeque, and children from the 4-H bird club provided dessert and drinks.  Thanks to efforts by the Tulelake Partnership, Tulelake Firemen, Tony Giacomelli, dozens of groups, and the USFWS, the day was a great learning adventure.  Most people from our community live here partly because of the vast amount of wildlife in our area: in our fields, our canals and our refuges.

I began the day with a bus tour of the Lower Klamath Refuge--the grandest yet most disappointing part of the day.  The variety of birds along the route was mind-boggling. Bob Galeoto, owner of the local bed and breakfast and tour bus service, drove our group.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) guide was wildlife biologist John Beckstrand, who helped us identify birds ranging from avocets, stilts, pelicans, ibis, many species of ducks and geese with strings of babies, and herons.  A golden eagle was perched beside the road. 

John Beckstrand

In 1908 this land was designated as wildlife refuges by Teddy Roosevelt; the second designated refuge in the United States. Klamath Basin has 6 refuges encompassing 190,000 acres. Tulelake refuge is 40,000 acres, Clear Lake 35,000, Bear Valley 5000, Klamath marsh 40,000, and Upper Klamath 30,000 acres. The two active colonies of pelicans that exist in California are on Lower Klamath and Clear Lake.  A question was asked why Clear Lake was closed to the public. The answer was, it can only be accessed by USFWS personnel when banding the pelicans, or by hunters when killing the ducks and geese, because it is a sensitive area...............?

Then came the blow. With a tour bus of people from Eugene, Klamath and Mt. Shasta, questions were asked regarding the farmers and the water shut off.
First I must fill you in on a little background.  With the coming of our new USFWS Tulelake Refuge Manager Ron Cole, former Tulelake resident, good relations with the refuge and farmers have begun.  Farmers have been setting aside much of their crops for almost a century for waterfowl food, yet now that work is being acknowledged and collaboration is happening with farms and wetlands, rotating fields and wetlands to provide optimum benefit for both. Trust is cautiously beginning to occur. 

A few years ago the headlines of the Herald and News local paper read, USFWS Wish List is to acquire farmland to end farming on refuges.  We were recently beginning to hope that it was no longer their goal.

Back to the tour.  When asked about the water situation, FWS tour guide Beckstrand told us that the Klamath Project was "too big".  He said that the line-up for water was first the ESA (Endangered Species Act) water, then Tribal Trust, agriculture, and last, refuges. When asked what his solution was, he said he felt that the farmers should be bought out. When asked why, he said that there would be more water for other uses.  I asked him, since wetlands use much more water than ag land sprinkling,  how would eliminating farms provide more water? His answer was, it would leave more water for other uses.

Beckstrand did say that 3 1/2 Acre Feet of water evaporates from refuge water.  Farm land uses approximately 2AF.

He continued to tell the group how the Bureau of Reclamation's water bank pays farmers to retire 75,000 acre feet of their water in 2004 for other uses. (this is supposedly voluntary...we farmers were told that if they did not provide this much water to send down the river and into Klamath Lake for downriver demands and lake levels, the Klamath Project could be again shut down.) He said that the water bank is a waste of money, and money should be spent buying out farmland. He could not understand why farmers would not support land buy-outs. I explained to him that if our land is bought out, then we would not be farmers. I also explained how this current mandatory water bank plans to downsize the Klamath Project by one quarter of our land and water. So when 25% of the Project is forced out of production, the economy of our entire agricultural area is cut 25%...businesses and services, tax base, schools.

The Klamath Water Users, Bureau of Reclamation, and community at large has been trying to find solutions to the current demands of artificially-elevated lake-level/river-flow management. They have gone to great research and expense to locate possible storage for these new demands that divert our basin's water. A tour guest asked about the new Long Lake proposal which would provide cold deep water for the down-river demands. Beckstrand said that this water would have to be provided from water that would normally come onto the refuges, thus depleting the refuge of water. This is contrary to what our community understood would come from the thousands of acre feet of snow run-off in the winter which has been sent to the ocean because we have no place to store it besides in the full refuges and Klamath Lake.

I told him that when we get irrigation water on our farms, it then goes into the refuge.  Contrary to all of the USFWS studies and reports, he told the group that this water is laden with pesticides so much of it will not be going onto the refuges this fall.  According to all of the studies and USFWS manager Ron Cole later in the day, pesticide restrictions prevent dangerous pesticide use and there is negligible pesticides in the water.  It is not an issue.

Beckstrand went on to explain how their wetlands and lands devoid of farm crops supply the food for the waterfowl, another reason why land would be better if it were not farmed. When I said that much food for wildlife comes from the farms, he said that natural feed is better than grains because it provides more nutrition.

I explained that when our water was shut off in 2001, because there was no water for farms, our run-off was consequently not available to the refuges.  So we irrigators pumped our untested aquifer to provide water for the wildlife.  The tour-guide's remark was that farmers were paid with a tax break for their water.  Wow, what a blow!  Our farms dried up and died, we pumped to save the birds and refuges, yet this USFWS guide would not acknowledge our contribution!

Ph. D. Robert McLandress, UC Davis ecology. has stated that the farms in the basin provide food for 50% of the waterfowl in the basin, over 70 million tons. "There are 433 species of wildlife in the basin, and the biological opinion deals with 3." He also explains that the natural systems could not even provide half of that food. Go HERE FOR AUDIO.

this refuge marshland did not dry up in 2001
 thanks to the area farmers donating well water

Following that tour was a Tulelake refuge air boat tour through the marshes.  For as far as you could see there were marshes and birds...a birding wonderland. Ron Cole, FWS manager, who spoke highly of the efforts of farmers in the basin, explained that much grain and alfalfa are consumed by wildlife like on Steve Kandra's field, and how the National Audubon Society is realizing how much food and habitat are provided by the farmers.  Cole is working closely with the farmers in rotating wetlands and farmland, benefiting both. 
A film by filmmaker Anders Tomlinson was shown with tens of thousands of waterfowl feeding on the fields and blackening our skies on their migration journey. This film will be available within a month.
Tulelake FWS Manager Ron Cole


In 2001, many of our Hispanic community had to move away in search of homes and jobs when our water was shut off.  Many were able to return and some stayed.  So today the youth provided us with an outstanding performance of cultural dancing.

At the bird festival there were live hawks and an owl. Several bird groups had booths, including one for children to draw birds aided by Susan Christy.

Our community continues to come together to support the treasure of our community, our wildlife. There were Indians, Mexicans, farmers, businesses, bird watchers, and government agencies. It is unfortunate that there are those with an unfriendly, divisive agenda who try to undermine the faith and trust and bond of our community that has pulled together for the good of all. 





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