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The Pioneer Press at the very top of the State of California grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded
Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California, State of Jefferson Rancher, May 31, 2006 Summer 2006 issue, Page 4, column 1
Irrigation water aids coho salmon

-- D.A. Kirk Andrus visits with Scott Valley rancher.

By Liz Bowen Rancher Editor

QUARTZ VALLEY, Siskiyou County, Calif. – Reduction of irrigation water from Shackleford Creek will reduce the quality of natural coho salmon rearing habitat on the ranch owned by John and Jennifer Menke.


Siskiyou County rancher, John Menke, shows District Attorney, Kirk Andrus, how big the coho salmon were in his small creek.

This statement may seem strange to government agency employees, urbanites and Green enviro advocates who are working under the assumption that a reduction in irrigation water on fields will put higher flows in the streams and result in improving fish habitat. Believe it or not, in many instances that is the fallacy.

The Menke’s Quartz Valley Red Angus Ranch is beneficial to coho rearing habitat and they can back up their beliefs with facts.

Actually, it is through his 30 years of professorship and field work, where John obtained his extensive knowledge and scientific facts. John was on the cutting-edge of computer modeling for range and eco systems, before the personal computer age was upon us. After graduating from University of California at Davis in the 1960s, he went on to earn his Ph.D. from Colorado State University in range and ecology.

The Marble Mt. Wilderness in Siskiyou County towers above Menke’s ranch, where irrigation water goes subsurface and runs through the cold subterranean gavels resulting in cooler water. Flood irrigation is the system that is used and, according to John, is the most practical; simply because the flowing irrigation water is cooled as it seeps across the fields and through the gravels.

The irrigation diversion begins deep in the mountain valley at Shackleford Creek. Water used for irrigation is a legal water right allotment through the State of California. Additionally, 350-acre feet of water is stored up in the alpine Campbell Lake, which is also a water right for Menkes. In mid-summer, as Shackleford snowmelt flows drop, John and Jennifer open up the headgate that flows down to Shackleford and the Menke’s Ranch.

The caveat is that significant amounts of water in Mill Creek dry up as the heat of summer drags on. It is a snow-fed creek and the water also goes subsurface.

So, ironically, it is the irrigation water from Shackleford that maintains the flows in Emigrant and provides the quality waters for coho juveniles.

“Some of the best spawning habitat for rearing coho is at the confluence of Emigrant and Mill Creeks,” said John, showing the half-mile stretch of nicely shaded small stream.

The California Endangered Species Act listed coho return to Shackleford Creek and its tributaries of Emigrant and Mill traversing a 100-mile maze of twists and turns. They begin at the Pacific Ocean traveling up the Klamath River and turn right at the Scott River and then another right at Shackleford Creek.

Gravels are “right” for the coho to spawn in late November and December, which is when the coho reach this inland valley.

The 2004-2005 winter was the biggest year on record for the return of the three-year old adult coho. Counters estimate that more than 1,500 returned to the Scott River system alone.

John and Jennifer are constantly checking their 65 head of mother cows and were in awe of the huge 30-inch coho that they eyed in Mill Creek below their home during that run.

Even though John is no longer teaching at U.C. Davis, he believes that education if essential. Those who do not live on the land are not likely to understand the nuances that go into proper management.

Because of continuing demands and regulations regarding water and legal water rights in the State of California, John and Jennifer invited the Siskiyou County District Attorney to their ranch. Several agencies are claiming the need for more flows in streams, rivers and creeks and are threatening water right allotments that are protected through state law.

Although game wardens, federal law enforcement officers and sheriff deputies may cite farmers for not complying with newly-imposed regulations, it will ultimately be up to the district attorney of each county to bring charges against a farmer or rancher.

Kirk Andrus, the Siskiyou County D.A. was willing to learn why ranchers are concerned about their water rights, so he took the Menkes up on their invitation. Andrus recognizes that water rights are a property right. He has said many times that he is the highest Constitutional officer in the county.

In this ranch situation, flood irrigation is not only viable, but a must for both the coho and the economics for the Menkes. They must irrigate their pastures to raise feed for their cattle. It is also that irrigation, which maintains quality waters for coho juveniles, when they are living the summer in Quartz Valley.

“An important resource in Quartz Valley is the cold (below surface) gravels, which cool the water,” reiterated John to the D.A.

“It was impressive to walk the land with someone, who is a responsible steward,” said Kirk, about his visit to the Menke ranch, and then added, “Responsible agriculture does benefit the environment. This was invaluable.”

Kirk said that he has doubt about the scientific data that is being applied by agencies. “You must take into consideration the historical riparian data as well, in any efforts to regulate,” he said. John showed the D.A. how the two creeks flow together and the irrigation water that benefits the shady coho habitat.

Kirk said that he is now concerned about “agenda driven regulations,” instead of “fact driven regulations.”

And he finished with, “Sound science that is correctly peer reviewed is a must




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