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DFG reaches out to Siskiyou County ranchers, farmers; agency seeks protection of coho salmon

By Ryan Sabalow Record Searchlight August 16, 2011
FORT JONES — Department of Fish and Game officials said Tuesday night they want to work with ranchers and farmers near the Scott and Shasta rivers by having them voluntarily cut back their irrigation water use to protect threatened coho salmon.
DFG representatives said county officials told them they needed to do a better job communicating and working together with people, instead of relying entirely on contentious permitting programs, which have ranchers so upset that many of them won't let the DFG on their land.
"Maybe we haven't been too good at doing that," said Curtis Milliron, fisheries program manager for the DFG's northern region, of communicating and working with ranchers.
Yet skeptical ranchers at a two-hour meeting felt the DFG was doing too little, too late, while environmental advocates felt officials were still being too lenient on the ranchers, whose water diversions, they say, are threatening already dwindling coho salmon runs in the Scott and Shasta river watersheds.
Nearly 100 people packed the Fort Jones Community Center to hear from DFG officials.
"They're liars, they're cheats, they're thieves," said Mark Baird, a 59-year-old rancher with 700 acres, of the DFG. "We can't trust them."
Baird, who's also vice president of Scott Valley Protect Our Water, addressed DFG officials with a copy of the Constitution tucked in his belt and wearing a ball cap reminiscent of the Union Army logo — two crossed swords.
He said he wanted a signed statement from Gov. Jerry Brown that if ranchers agreed to let DFG biologists on their land to study the coho and agreed to curb water diversions, then the ranchers would keep their water rights as well as not be faced with further restrictions on water that affects their livelihood. His remarks earned cheers from the crowd.
Scott Valley rancher Preston Harris, 31, said things would be much different now if DFG officials had initially asked ranchers a decade earlier, rather than spending almost a decade trying to use a heavy regulatory hand.
"They had years to do this," Harris said. "They pretty much already tried to take it by force. ... Now they're trying to ask politely."
But Konrad Fisher, outreach director for Klamath Riverkeeper based in Orleans, said he feels more enforcement is needed. The environmental group is one of several groups that have tried to intervene in a lawsuit over water permits.
He said of the meeting: "It's about what I expected. Fish and Game is asking rather than telling.
"In the long run, we need voluntary permanent reduction in water usage."
Fisher also said that under state and federal law, the DFG has an obligation to make sure the fish have enough water.
Coho salmon in the Shasta and Scott River watersheds are listed as a threatened species under federal and state endangered species acts. DFG biologists have been monitoring their populations in the Shasta and Scott rivers since 2001.
They've seen precipitous declines in their numbers, they say.
Ranchers pulling water from low creeks to irrigate fields have contributed to the decline, the biologists say. Coho must stay in freshwater for 18 months before entering the ocean to grow and mature. Young coho salmon need cold, well-oxygenated water to survive, as well.
DFG officials at the meeting asked ranchers to voluntarily refrain from pulling water from certain sections of tributaries during key times of the year when water levels begin to drop.
Fish and Game's request comes amid a series of court battles over agricultural water use in the two watersheds.
The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau has sued the department, challenging a system that requires farmers to get permits to use creek water to irrigate.
Last month a Siskiyou Court commissioner ruled that the Karuk Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources couldn't be included in the case.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith ordered the DFG to more tightly regulate water in the Scott and Shasta valleys after the DFG was sued by the same environmental and fishing groups and Indian tribes.
The DFG has appealed that ruling.




The head of water that comes from the snow melt is gone — above and below the streambed. The Greenies found a few dead juvenile fish in Patterson Creek. We have proof, this year, that farmers were NOT irrigating above this spot. Irrigation wells were NOT pumping above this spot.

RESULT: Even in HIGH water years, the creeks naturally go dry.

To DFG and Greenies: Agriculture is the friend of wildlife, including fish. Nature naturally kills off some animals, which other animals get to eat. This is life in the rural areas. Urbanite fantasies do not change the TRUTH.

And we can point fingers to significant other groups, including DFG, to prove they are killing coho salmon.

Small family-owned farms and ranches feed America.

Remember that the next time you go to the store to purchase your food!

– Editor Liz Bowen

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              Page Updated: Friday August 19, 2011 03:15 AM  Pacific

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