Focus on Agriculture
American Farm Bureau Federation
For the week of: April 30, 2001
An Endangered Species Fights Back
By Erin McGinn
An editorial cartoon in the Klamath Falls (Oregon) Herald and News
says it all: An upright, gun-toting fish tells a fellow "hunter"-fish that it's
okay to go after crops, but he should watch out for farmers because
"they're an endangered species."
Unfortunately, that's all too true this spring for farmers along the
California-Oregon border who rely on water from the Klamath Basin
Project to irrigate their crops. In early April, the Interior Department's
Bureau of Reclamation decided to cut off the farmers' water supply to
protect endangered sucker fish and Coho salmon. The region-wide
drought and the dictates of the Endangered Species Act forced the
move, the government contends.
Under the new rule, growers will have access to 10 percent of the
water in the basin, leaving 90 percent for the fish.
The decision will result in $300 million-$400 million in economic losses
to farmers and the agriculture-based communities they support,
according to the Siskiyou County (California) Farm Bureau. Fire
departments, schools, community organizations and county and city
governments will see significant revenue losses.
Ironically, the environment also will be hurt. Thousands of species, such
as ducks, geese, pheasants, deer and quail will be denied food, water
and shelter. Topsoil will erode. Over 180 miles of canal ecosystems
and 516 miles of drainage canal ecosystems will be destroyed.
But the growers who work the 1,400 farms located in the Klamath
Basin haven't been just sitting back and watching their livelihoods get
sucked down a drain by the federal bureaucracy. Endangered Species
Act-driven competition for water in the region has been going on for
several years. Until now, compromises between various users and the
government headed off any drastic measures. Farmers knew they had
to be part of the solution and they acted accordingly. They devised
plans to restore wetlands in wildlife refuges, reduced pesticide use to
protect wildlife and worked diligently to find a solution for all of the
basin's water users – but not in time to prevent the federal government
from acting precipitously.
The dispute now moves to the courtroom, with possible injunctions and
mediation on the horizon. Senators and congressmen from two states
have visited the area and promised some sort of relief package. None
are saying the farmers will actually farm this year.
As a result, farmers and community members will again urge the
federal government to reconsider decisions that put creatures before
the livelihood of farmers, ranchers and the communities they have built.
On May 7, more than 10,000 people will pass 50 buckets of water
along the five miles between the Link River and the closed-off irrigation
canal. The 50 buckets will represent the vulnerability of farmers in
every state until the Endangered Species Act is amended to allow
balance for all users of land and water.
Until that happens, sympathy and promises from politicians will remain
nothing more than a drop in a bucket.