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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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From farms to wetlands; Transforming tracts of farmland to wetlands
by Jill Aho, Herald and News 11/20/08

   Q:  What prompted you to flood a portion of your land?
   Rob Crawford: The 70 acres I flooded is a joint venture involving my relatives and my brother. The benefits are: Water can be stored under ground which reduces the water demand the following spring and summer. A decrease in the disease profile of the soil.
After three years, the land can be farmed organically. It adds nitrogen naturally and helps eliminate soil compaction. I have learned you can grow a marsh similarly to crops and in the same amount of time. It is amazing how quickly the emerging marsh becomes desirable to wildlife. 

   Q:  What challenges have you faced?
   The spring and fall migrations of snow geese, white fronts and ducks increase the demand for food sources from wildlife, which can be a challenge for growing and harvesting crops. Flocks of blackbirds and herds of deer always seem hungry. 

   Reclaiming marshland has significant costs and difficulties, too. Building and maintaining canal dikes and infrastructure of irrigation systems is costly and time consuming. Adjacent landowners could be affected by seepage and crop damage, including increased wildlife pressure. 

   Q:  In what ways to do you work directly with Ron Cole? How would you describe your relationship with the refuges? 

   As a member of the Lease Land Advisory Board and the Klamath Water Users Board, I deal with issues connected to the refuge system, not to mention the refuge borders my main ranch on three sides. 

   I appreciate the experience Ron Cole has brought to the Klamath Basin Refuges by maintaining clear objectives in his administration. I understand this is a two way street; via cooperation, positive change can be developed that benefits everyone. 

   Q:  How do you see agriculture affecting the refuges? What are the benefits and possible detractions? 

   Agriculture’s investment in equipment and manpower coupled with the knowledge of how to get things done in a timely fashion can help control weeds, for example, without the use of chemicals while providing thousands of acres of cereal grains for migrations.
Noxious weeds, which are spreading like wildfire, are a detriment to both refuge and farm, and work continues for a good weed abatement policy. 

   Remnants of the potato crops left in the field are a highly desired food for migrating geese and local Canada goose populations. Other wildlife, such as the sizeable number of deer, are keen to these easy pickings. Being a good steward of the land is the key to the future. 

   Q:  What difference do you think the cooperation between farmers and the refuge manager has made? 

   When visiting the Walking Wetlands, conservationists, tourists, hunters or any member of the public can easily see the positive impacts of the efforts of agriculturist and refuge management since this new era of cooperation has taken a foothold. They will see diversity of wildlife, increased wildlife numbers, beautiful fields of weed-free, highly productive farmland, and fresh emerging marshes. 

   The relationship between the refuge and the community hit a low point in 2001 as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service attempted to use the Endangered Species Act as a punitive regulatory hammer. It should be everyone’s objective to never repeat the insanity of that terrible time. 

   Q:  What are your hopes for the future?
   The present administration of the Klamath refuges has me cautiously optimistic. I believe there is opportunity for everyone. By adherence to federal law, such as the Kuchel Act, flexibility and opportunity can be provided for our future.
Side Bar
Rob Crawford

Tulelake-area farmer Rob Crawford, 51, has been cultivating the family farm since he was 14. It was then his father, a Tulelake Basin farmer, died, leaving the farming operations to Crawford, his mother and his brother. 

   The family grew the farm from a grain operation to include potatoes, onions, peppermint and grain. This increase, Crawford says, has allowed the farm to continue providing a living for his family and the people they employ. 

   Crawford is married to LeAnne and has two children, Callie, 18, and Max, 14. He attended college at Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology. He lives on the family farm near Tulelake, where his family owns 540 farmable acres and leases additional acres in the Walking Wetlands program.
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