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The Klamath Tribes on Thursday announced they have withdrawn a lawsuit regarding lake levels in Upper Klamath Lake against the Bureau of Reclamation.
The lawsuit was awaiting a court date in Portland, after being moved from a federal court in San Francisco court in July by U.S. District Judge William Orrick.
Despite the dismissal of the lawsuit, the Klamath Tribes maintain their view that Reclamation has “failed” and “continues to fail” to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act to prevent extinction of the Koptu and C’waam, otherwise known as the shortnose and Lost River sucker, according to a news release from the Tribes.
The decision to dismiss the lawsuit comes in light of Reclamation’s announcement that a new biological opinion underway is anticipated to be completed by April 2019, four months sooner than previously stated in legislation recently signed by President Donald Trump.
A biological opinion is a working document that helps guide the distribution of water to protect endangered fish.
The Tribes said in a news release they must devote their efforts to ensure the future Project operations under the forthcoming “BiOp” will not jeopardize the continued existence of the C’waam and Koptu as operations have done under the 2013 BiOp.
Gentry said the endangered fish were once the most important fish for the Upper Klamath Lake region, providing a mainstay in the tribes diet, as well as an important fish for recreational fishermen.
The Tribes voluntarily suspended fishing of the species in 1986, which was a right under the Treaty of 1864, and now harvest just two per year for ceremonial purposes.
“Time is running out for the C’waam and Koptu,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes. “The Klamath Tribes believe the new BiOp offers the best and fastest path forward to improve conditions for fish in Upper Klamath Lake. The current BiOp is based on flawed and outdated science. We remain confident that Klamath Project operations will change for the better for fish if best available science is allowed to lead the way.”
The Tribes point to the new BiOp as an opportunity to avoid diverting more water from Upper Klamath Lake after all of the requirements for the 2018 Operations Plan were met, which they allege happened in October.
The Tribes see the lake now sits “perilously low” and close to the point where Gentry said some scientists warn could lead to extinction of the endangered fish.
Gentry also said the collapse of the fisheries coincides with the declining health of Upper Klamath Lake, which once was a destination for boating, birding and paddling.
“The new BiOp is an opportunity to address the problems of past operations,” Gentry said. “Rather than drawing the lake down dangerously low in the fall and betting on a wet winter, the Bureau should take every opportunity to build a buffer for the fish and Basin communities against future scarcity, which is a matter of when, not if.
“Instead, the Bureau is setting up communities in the Basin for more conflict over water as the predicted warm, dry winter means the prospects for refilling the lake next spring are not good.”
Bureau of Reclamation officials were not readily available for comment on the Tribes action as of presstime.
Merkley to visit Basin next week
Along with the announcement of the dismissal of a lawsuit against Bureau of Reclamation, Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry announced a visit by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to Klamath Falls on Friday, Nov. 16, when he plans to host a Sucker Recovery Summit at Oregon Tech.
The summit is a private event and was first closed to the media, though the H&N has requested and received access to attend.
“The Tribes are looking forward to a thorough exchange of information as we begin the reinitiation of consultation on the 2019 BiOp,” Gentry said. “The Tribes are also encouraged by and deeply appreciate Sen. Jeff Merkley's efforts to bring the best, most recent science and scientists together for the Sucker Recovery Summit that the senator is convening in Klamath Falls next week. We are grateful for all the work that Sen. Merkley has done for the Klamath Tribes and all the stakeholders in the Klamath Basin. We are counting on making progress towards improving water quality in the lake and getting started crafting a 2019 Operation Plan that gives the fish a fighting chance at recovery.”
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Page Updated: Saturday November 10, 2018 01:26 AM Pacific
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