35 Conservation Organizations Sound Alarm on Klamath Water

September 24, 2012


Steve Pedery
Oregon Wild
503-283-6343 ext. 212

Bob Sallinger
Audubon Society of Portland

Jim McCarthy
WaterWatch of Oregon

Noah Greenwald
Center for Biological Diversity

35 Conservation Organizations Sound Alarm on Klamath Water
Wildlife advocates urge Obama administration not to allow National Wildlife Refuges to go dry during critical fall migration

Portland, Oregon — A coalition of 35 national, regional and local conservation groups called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today to provide water to the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) of northern California and southern Oregon.

Specifically, conservationists are seeking the Obama Administration to direct the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), which administers the 210,000 acre Klamath water project, to provide water for the marshes on the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges—considered to be among the most important refuges along the western Pacific Flyway. The BOR and local irrigators wish to begin recharging local reservoirs beginning October 1st , when the 2012 irrigation season comes to an end.

The Klamath water project consumes between 350,000 to 450,000 acre feet of water annually (an acre foot is the water necessary to flood one acre of land, one foot deep). “Of that total, 45,000 acre feet is needed from late summer to early winter to sufficiently supply water for Lower Klamath NWR’s basic waterfowl and other wildlife needs,” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Manager for WaterWatch. “This summer, the wetlands of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge received no water deliveries from the middle of May to September 1. This has left this refuge parched and mostly dry at the beginning of the fall waterfowl migration period,” McCarthy said.

During this same period, from mid-May to the end of August 2012, 426,000 acre feet of water has been released from Upper Klamath Lake. Approximately half of that water went to help provide flows in the Klamath River, while the other half has gone to commercial irrigation in the upper Klamath Basin. Just 10,000 acre feet of water has so far been approved by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge’s very late, and minimal, fall flood up—a mere 2.3% of this year’s Upper Klamath Lake’s seasonal water releases. Additionally, the BOR annually leases 20,000 or more acres of refuge lands for the production of commercial crops—which are irrigated while refuge marshes stand dry.

“This is not a natural drought—it is a man-made wildlife disaster,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. “Once again our nation’s premier Klamath Basin NWRs are being denied anything close to a sufficient amount of water for its dedicated marshes. Worse still, these refuges have not received critical water deliveries this summer and early fall in a year when commercial agriculture, uniquely permitted to operate on these same national wildlife refuges, has once again been allowed to profit at the public’s expense, and to the significant detriment to our nation’s wildlife,” Pedery said.

“Today, approximately 80% of the Klamath Basin region’s historic (private and public) wetlands are commercially farmed,” said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director of the Audubon Society of Portland. “Tule Lake and Lower Klamath NWRs were set aside to mitigate these losses, which refuge managers once documented as late as the mid-1950s as then supporting ‘the greatest concentration of waterfowl in North America and probably the world.’ Still today, Lower Klamath NWR alone supports 40% of all the waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway, as well as hosting a major concentration of wintering bald eagles,” Sallinger said.

At current rates of late-water delivery, by October 1st Lower Klamath NWR’s 20,000 acres of potential wetlands will contain as little as 5,000 acres of total wetlands. Also, by allowing refuge wetlands to shrink to well less than 2,000 acres this summer, necessary wetland food plants were unable to grow and properly mature to meet migratory waterfowl needs.

The Pacific Flyway extends from northern Alaska to well south of the North American continent. “In general, this flyway can best be thought of like an hourglass, with Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges as the constriction in the center,” said Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Millions of birds including ducks, geese, swans, pelicans, raptors and a host of other water birds have come to depend on it as a critical stopping over place during migration. If the Klamath Basin NWRs are allowed to continue to slowly die, the overall negative impact throughout the entire flyway will be catastrophic,” Greenwald said.

With little, and very late water deliveries this fall, conservationists again fear a repeat of last spring’s waterfowl die-off which resulted in the needless deaths of over 20,000 ducks, geese and swans confined to small wetland habitats where fowl cholera easily spread.

35 conservation organizations have joined together to voice their concerns over this matter, including the American Bird Conservancy, Arkansas Audubon Society, Audubon Society of Corvallis, Audubon Society of Portland, Bird Conservation Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Concerned Friends of the Winema, Detroit Audubon Society, La Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos – ECOAN, Endangered Habitats League, Environmental Protection Information Center, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, Flathead Audubon Society, Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Klamath Wetland Education and Research Institute, Madison Audubon Society, Maryland Ornithological Society, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Wild, Pacific Seabird Group, Pomona Valley Audubon, PRBO Conservation Science (Point Reyes Bird Observatory), Redwood Region Audubon Society, Rogue Group Oregon Chapter Sierra Club, Rogue Valley Audubon Society, Salem Audubon Society, Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, Songbirds of Northern Indiana, Inc., the Trumpeter Swan Society, the Urban Wildlands Group, Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, WaterWatch of Oregon, and the Wisconsin Audubon Council.