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Tribe bashes federal officials; claims they're endangering salmon

Government says migrating fish in Klamath River are OK

by Damon Arthur, Record Searchlight November 1, 2012

Officials with the Hoopa Valley Tribe are claiming federal officials are illegally harming threatened coho salmon by reducing water flows in the Klamath River.

Beginning Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was supposed to increase water flowing from Irongate Dam to 1,300 cubic feet per second on the river near Yreka.

But bureau officials decided to keep Irongate releases at 1,000 cfs to help fill Upper Klamath Lake, said Kevin Moore, a bureau spokesman.

Hoopa Valley tribe officials claim the bureau's actions are illegal under the Endangered Species Act and the National Marine Fisheries Service was not doing its job to protect the salmon.

"Now for the second year in a row, the BOR (bureau) and the National Marine Fisheries Service are violating Endangered Species Act flows for the coho salmon," said Hoopa Valley tribal Chairman Leonard Masten said. "If this is any indication of the bureau's future water planning, I do not see how the salmon can recover."

Coho salmon, listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, are in the early stages of their run up the Klamath River, officials said. Hoopa officials are worried the fish, a large part of their culture, won't have adequate habitat for spawning.

"Salmon are the Hoopa people's most important resource," Masten said.

But a National Marine Fisheries report on the flow releases said coho salmon can successfully migrate and spawn in the river when the water is running at 1,000 cfs in November and December.

As of Thursday afternoon, the river was flowing at 1,200 cfs below Irongate, said Jim Simondet, national marine fisheries' Klamath Basin supervisor. He said during the next two months the flows may vary, but won't go below 1,000 cfs.

Moore said Upper Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon is at an 18-year low and holding back water in the lake would help fill it. If there is more water in the lake come spring, that water can be used for higher flows in the Klamath next spring when juvenile coho are migrating to the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to ensuring flows to protect the coho salmon, the bureau also has to keep the lake level up to meet legal requirements to protect the endangered Lost River sucker and short-nosed sucker, Moore said.

Regina Chichizola, a spokeswoman for the Hoopa Tribe, said Upper Klamath Lake was low because the bureau provided "full agricultural deliveries" to farmers in the Klamath Basin.

Moore disagreed, saying agricultural water users did not get 100 percent of their contracted amounts. Many farms in the region also pumped more groundwater for irrigation and many fields were left fallow to reduce water taken from the Klamath River system, he said.

Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said he was not happy with the way the bureau has managed water in the basin, but agreed that keeping river flows at 1,000 cfs would help the juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean next spring.

"The most important time to have good flows in the river is in the spring," Tucker said. "Right now the Upper Klamath is really low, so if you don't fill up Upper Klamath Lake, you don't get good flows in the spring," Tucker said.




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