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Refuge expansion proposed

Tuesday April 12, 2005

By LEE JUILLERAT

 
 
 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is exploring a proposal to add the Barnes Ranch and perhaps the Agency Lake Ranch to the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

Under two proposed additions, the Fish and Wildlife Service would purchase the 2,671-acre Barnes Ranch, which is in private ownership, and either cooperatively manage the 7,125-acre Agency Lake Ranch with the Bureau of Reclamation, or acquire the Agency Lake property.

The refuge currently includes almost 15,000 acres of mostly freshwater marsh and open water on Upper Klamath Lake, including habitat for endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers, and a variety of resident and migratory birds.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the refuge additions would increase water storage in the Upper Klamath Basin, and improve fish and wildlife habitat.

"It's an opportunity to do good things for endangered fish, wildlife and those who need water," said Ron Cole, Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager. "It's good from a wildlife, water quality and water quantity perspective."

 

"We're going to take public comment and see what everybody thinks," said Richard Smith, natural resource specialist for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Sacramento office.

Smith said the preferred option is acquiring both the Barnes and Agency Lake ranches. But alternatives include buying the Barnes Ranch and cooperatively managing the Agency Lake Ranch with the Bureau, or taking no action at all.

Federal acquisition of the privately owned Barnes Ranch has been discussed since 2000. Early efforts were thwarted because of differences between the proposed sales price and government appraisals. President Bush's proposed 2006 budget includes $6 million for buying the property.

"They must feel fairly confident negotiations are moving along," Cole said.

 
 
 

"It's a high priority for the Service and the Bush Administration," said Alexandra Pitts, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Sacramento.

If Congress does not provide funding through the president's budget, Pitts said, money for the Barnes property would have to be a "several year process ... Whether it gets funded (in the president's 2006 budget) or not, we're planning for it."

By acquiring both ranches, Smith said, the service could take steps to increase water storage during wet years. The Agency Lake Ranch cannot be flooded without also flooding the Barnes property.

Restoration work would probably begin by breaching levees holding back Agency Lake, allowing both properties to flood to Agency Lake's current level. Based on studies, when restoration begins, the two ranches would provide increased storage capacity for Agency Lake.

"Habitat restoration actions would benefit sensitive species that use the lake, and the Klamath Project by providing additional water for irrigating croplands," a Fish and Wildlife Service planning update says.

 
 
 

"Future restoration of wetland habitats on the Barnes and Agency Lake properties would provide natural water filtration, which would reduce the algal blooms that lower oxygen in the lake to levels that can be lethal to fish," the update report says. "Restoring these properties to lake and emergency wetlands would reestablish the vital role that the marshes serve in filtering nutrients and providing essential habitat for larval and juvenile suckers."

"We think we can do thing will help wildlife, including suckers, for very little expense," Cole said.

 
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