The Northcoast Environmental Center has bowed out of multi-party talks aimed at resolving some of the Klamath River basin's thorniest controversies.

The center's stance on the draft agreement has changed several times since it went public in early 2008, from tentative support, to opposition, back to tentative support and now withdrawal. The NEC holds that the agreement between tribes, irrigators, agencies and environmental groups guarantees water for farms but not for fish, and would continue farming on Upper Klamath River wildlife refuges.

Greg King with the NEC said that efforts to submit changes to the working document were rebuffed. Signing onto the agreement in its current form, he said, could prevent the center from taking legal action to protect salmon in the river from depleted flows.

”Ultimately, the risks of the deal are put on the fish,” King said.

Scientific reviews the NEC commissioned last year raised concerns about the deal's ability to protect fish, but the scientists who wrote those reviews later said that those worries had been eased after attending a three-day science conference on the matter. King said remaining issues have been left unaddressed, however.

Craig Tucker with the Karuk Tribe, which supports the agreement, said that the agreement puts a cap on the amount of water delivered to irrigators each year, something not currently in place. That corresponds to more water for fish, he said.

”The farmers are giving up water,” Tucker said. “The fish get more water under this deal.”

He did said that a plan to handle droughts has yet to be written, but must be complete before the agreement can be final. Tucker also insisted that any group -- whether they sign the agreement or not -- can still assert its right to litigate to protect endangered species in the river if necessary.

The NEC also argues that trying to come to an agreement on the broad problems in the basin could hold up negotiations with dam owner Pacificorp to remove four hydropower dams on the river. The group remains a party to those talks.

John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or