Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Klamath Tribes sue to protect fish

The Klamath Tribes filed a lawsuit Wednesday under the Endangered Species Act challenging federal regulators to prevent a mass die-off of suckerfish this summer in Upper Klamath Lake.

Filed in federal court in Norther California, the Tribes called on the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to take “immediate, emergency measures” to provide enough water for C’waam and Koptu (Lost River and shortnose suckers, respectively).

Tribal Chairman Don Gentry said, if a drought this summer is as severe as expected, the fish will be in danger unless the lake is deep enough for them to find safe water away from pollution and toxic algae blooms.

“We’re in a very, very serious situation with our fish and unfortunately things are so dire with the projections and there’s so much at risk we’ve had to take this extreme measure to keep the fish from going extinct,” said Gentry.

The case has been assigned to Judge William Orrick and an initial conference is scheduled for Aug. 21. The Tribes is represented by Rosette LLP, which specializes in federal Indian law.

Fair warning

The Tribes filed a notice of intent to sue Feb. 9, claiming the federal agencies in question were violating the ESA though mismanagement of the Klamath Reclamation Project and Upper Klamath Lake. The Tribes said a 2013 biological opinion guiding management of the sucker species has been violated, and was inadequate to begin with, by not accounting for recent drier-than-expected years.

Wednesday’s lawsuit reiterated these concerns and emphasized the importance of C’waam and Koptu to the Tribes. A press release Thursday said, according to the Tribes’ creation story, if the sucker go away, the people go away.

“Where we come from as a people, these fish are our lives and our livelihood and our sustenance and our culture,” said Gentry. “… We need to do everything that we can that we have control over to protect our fish from going extinct.”

Drought anxiety

This lawsuit comes amid concerns among other water users in the Klamath Basin who are also be impacted by the drought. Klamath County commissioners have estimated the drought could cost $557 million in agriculture revenue and around 4,500 jobs.

In response to the Tribes’ lawsuit, the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) issued a release Thursday claiming higher lake levels will not improve sucker conditions.

“This action could have devastating impacts on good and honest people and our regional economy, and to what end?” said Scott White, executive director for KWUA.

Brad Kirby, president of KWUA and general manager for the Tulelake Irrigation District, criticized the Tribes’ decision to litigate the matter and said they should have engaged in opportunities for out-of-court negotiations.

“They’ve had many opportunities and this community deserves better,” said Kirby, with the release stating the decision to sue “is not going to sit well” with irrigators.

Both sides of the coin

Gentry said he was not deaf to the concerns of irrigators and said he hoped they would see the Tribes’ perspective of potentially losing a cultural and food resource. He said the struggle between the Tribes and irrigators for water has “always been a difficult thing” and said the current conflict is not a position any of them want to be in.

“They’re both important and I hope the community would realize that,” he said of agriculture and fisheries. “We’re just in an unhealthy situation that isn’t sustainable.”


When asked if he saw a potential settlement solution that could guide such conflicts in the future, Gentry said the Klamath Tribes is not focusing on such negotiations right now and is instead concentrating on protecting the fish.

“We’re just not to a place to discuss a water balance until we know our fish are in a healthy situation, and even then that would be up to our general members,” he said. “... History has shown that we have been workable. We’re just backed into a corner now.”

Scientific concerns

Gentry did address claims that higher water levels would not help the fish and said, according to biologists working with the Tribes, there is a direct link between water quality and lake levels. He said current lake levels have gone below what was recommended in the 2013 biological opinion, and recommended levels should even be higher based on their research.

In Thursday’s news release, tribal biologist Mark Buettner said the challenge is that young fish born upstream are unable to survive in current lake conditions, leaving only the older population to reproduce. When this older population dies off, Buettner said it creates a bottleneck where too few fish can replace those the older generation.

“These fish are reaching a tipping point,” said Buettner. “Too many fish are dying before they’re old enough to reproduce.”

Strong responses

When asked how members of the Tribes should react to news of the lawsuit, Gentry said he is concerned at times like this about “pushback or retaliation” by those who oppose the Tribes’ efforts. He said he would ask members to not react harshly if confronted — or not react at all — and to encourage people to understand where they’re coming from.

“I’m always concerned about tribal members and their safety,” he said.




In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

Home Contact


              Page Updated: Saturday May 26, 2018 03:36 PM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2001 - 2018, All Rights Reserved