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Walking wetlands program causes concerns


Public should be frustrated about program’s relationship to restoration agreement

By ANI KAME’ENUI, guest writer, Herald and News 8/9/09

Ani Kame’enui is the Klamath Campaign Coordinator for Oregon Wild. She is an Oregonian, raised in the Willamette Valley with an academic background in geology and water resources engineering. Oregon Wild was founded in 1974. Its Web page says the organization works to protect and restore Oregon’s wild lands, wildlife and waters. It was formerly known as the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

On July 13, the Tule Lake Irrigation District meeting hosted a conversation between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives and irrigation district members on walking wetlands, a program facilitated by Ron Cole, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges manager.

In recent years, both agriculture and local fish and wildlife officials have held up the Walking Wetlands as a terrific example of compromise in the Klamath Basin, one that brings both wildlife and farmers what they need, at least temporarily.

The Upper Klamath Basin was once covered in vast wetlands. Hundreds of thousands of acres were eventually put into agricultural production, while small portions were set aside as final refuges for important wildlife. More than 80 percent of the original wetlands are gone.

It’s true, the walking wetlands create additional habitat for migratory birds and native wetland grasses, and may decrease the number of pesticides at work on refuge lands. It is also true that these benefits are as temporary as the wetlands themselves.

The program remains a modest approach to what the Basin’s wildlife actually need, more permanent wetland habitat — habitat that is readily available if the national wildlife refuges were once again restored to their original purpose.

The walking wetlands program also has the detrimental effect of providing the ongoing justification for commercial agriculture on drained wetlands next door.

Last month, some farmers in the Tule Lake Irrigation District took issue with Cole’s program as waters breached refuge lands and took to temporary wetlands on private property, unbeknownst to some landowners.

According to minutes taken by a www.klamathbasincrisis.org reporter, {Walking Wetland Controversy, and Bureau of Reclamation Issues, by KBC reporter July 19, 2009} these days temporary wetlands on private lands are being traded for lease land property on public refuge lands, and some private landowners have concerns about the impacts of the new wetlands to their property.

Part of refuges

Under the yet-to-be-enacted Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, walking wetlands on public lands will become, like the refuges themselves, a part of the Klamath Reclamation Project (15.1.2 A.i.), and TID will be responsible for water deliveries to the walking wetlands (15.1.2 A.i.).

While refuge personnel rightly sing the praises of the temporary wetlands for their role in bringing more wildlife to their shores, under the restoration agreement this “increase” in habitat and wildlife, as some have suggested, will be quickly eliminated.

The restoration agreement stipulates that for each additional acre of water put into a walking wetland on refuge property or private land, the water delivery to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge will be decreased by an equal amount.

Cole claimed at the July 13 meeting that the walking wetlands are the “core” of the “environmentalists’ support” of the restoration agreement.

While Oregon Wild may fall into the category of “environmentalists,” we certainly don’t support the walking wetlands providing a pass for the restoration agreement. In fact, the walking wetlands on public and private lands could ultimately hurt Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge under the agreement.

The idea that the few environmentalists left in the restoration agreement negotiations are using a temporary wetlands program, as justification for their support is troublesome, if not hard to believe. How a provision to include walking wetlands on private lands has secured their support of the agreement and reassured their devotion to one of the nation’s largest commercial agriculture developments on public land is unclear. 

Section 15.1.2, part A.i. of the restoration agreement reminds us all that Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge are “owned by the United States,” that they are public lands.

Not unlike some of the Tule Lake Irrigation District’s frustrated private landowners concerned they didn’t have a say in the walking wetlands on their neighbor’s back 40, the general public should be stand frustrated as well, similarly troubled by the management of our lands in the Klamath Basin.

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