Bird hunters flock to Basin
Hunters navigate the river as they scout for a
location. Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge
Manager Ron Cole said Klamath Basin is great for
hunters who want to roam free.
Farms offer critical food source for migrating waterfowl
Jacqui Krizo for
the Capital Press
Fifteen-year-old Ethan and his dad, Ron Cole, were hunting
on Lower Klamath Lake when the teen shot a duck and his
dog Pepper chose not to fetch it. About that time Ethan's
concerned mom called on her cell phone and Cole affirmed
that "yes, Ethan is still clean." A moment later Ron saw
Ethan lying in a foot of mud trying to fetch his bird.
"He shot well," Cole boasted, "Ethan got six birds with 11
It was another fine day of hunting for the elder Cole,
manager of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge
Complex on the California-Oregon border. He said the
Klamath Basin is the most important stop for waterfowl on
the Pacific Flyway. Approximately 2 million waterfowl fly
down from Canada every year and spend several weeks in the
Basin at the peak of the season in mid-November. They then
migrate south to Central Valley and Mexico. Between 80 and
90 percent rest in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath
Refuges. Hunters harvest 6,000 to 12,000 of the birds.
The Klamath Basin sports the largest hunting program in
wildlife refuges in the United States. Of 4,000
applicants, 300 hunters were on Lower Klamath Lake and
another 500 in Tule Lake Refuge this year on the opening
weekend. There were between 1,000 and 1,500 hunters the
Monday after opening as there is no limit on hunters
"There are over a million birds here now," Cole said.
"I've been told by some it's the best hunt in 20 years."
Klamath Basin hunting is different from other places -
hunters don't have to get a blind and number and stand.
Cole said hunters can get a boat, roam free; people aren't
Cole works closely with area farmers, conservation groups
and volunteers to manage wildlife refuges and private land
for productive habitat and farms. The Klamath Basin has
become a showcase, attracting visitors from around the
world to observe the Walking Wetlands program, which
rotates farmland with wetlands. Cole said, "We can't do
without ag for many of these species."
His philosophy is to take care of all the species as well
as agriculture and not just selectively focus on one
But Endangered Species Act decisions can make that
"There are 489 species of wildlife in the Klamath Basin
and the biological opinion deals with three," California
Waterfowl Association President Robert McLandress said.
"Every duck has to eat a fifth to a quarter of a pound,
and every goose and swan eats pound or better per day.
There are 200 million waterfowl use days that have to be
fed in the Klamath Basin; that's about 70 million pounds
of food. We couldn't even cover half that out of the
natural systems; the other half has to come out of the
He added the Klamath farmers are crucial to waterfowl. If
farms are healthy, the waterfowl can serve people up and
down the Pacific Flyway. Klamath Basin has the largest
concentration of waterfowl in North America.
CWA, unlike many groups and agencies, focuses on restoring
and managing habitat rather than acquiring it. McLandress
compares managing birds to managing farms; an unmanaged
crops has poor yield. When habitat and hunting are well
managed, wildlife is abundant.
CWA writes grants and lobbies for funding for local
habitat projects, hunting opportunities, training for
disease control, and conservation education for youth.
Every dollar contributed to CWA results in $10 for local
projects in California.
McLandress said that some environmentalists think humans
aren't part of nature and must leave nature alone.
"That's why the Endangered Species Act is an impractical
way of caring for species and that's why more species are
becoming endangered," he said. "Bird numbers in the
Klamath Basin are good this year and we expect an
excellent fall flight. The total number of waterfowl
coming to California today is roughly the same as 50 years
Harvesting birds, like harvesting crops, is good for the
species, McLandress said. Nature takes some birds every
year and "what we take, nature does not get." Studies show
that regardless of hunters, the same percentage of birds
die annually. Managers look at the bird population to
determine how many can be taken without hurting the bird
"Hunting brings people to watch the sunrise as birds are
coming, feel the cold air, and hear life," Cole said. "The
real connection begins with kids as they clean the bird,
cook it, then it's on his plate. Kids have a greater
connection to wild things, and hunting and fishing helps
seal between people and outdoors their connection to
Jacqui Krizo is a freelance writer.