Lack of bird refuges plan spurs lawsuit

Lack of bird refuges plan spurs lawsuit
Klamath Falls Herald & News

April 25, 2014

Three conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the federal wildlife agency tasked with developing new management tools for Klamath Basin wildlife refuges.

According to a news release, the three groups — the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon — filed the suit to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Klamath Basin CCP is 18 months past deadline.

The plan is long overdue in area of such “extraordinary ecological importance,” said Jim McCarthy, communications director and Southern Oregon program manager for WaterWatch of Oregon.

“The fact we don’t have a plan for these refuges 18 months out is just not right,” McCarthy said.

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 requires the USFWS to develop and implement a plan for each unit within the national wildlife refuge system, according to the release.

Under the act, the Department of the Interior Secretary is required to prepare a plan for each refuge within 15 years after the date National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act was enacted.

The law set a deadline of Oct. 9, 2012 for the completion of all plans.

Matt Baun, a spokesman for the USFWS, said that the Basin refuges’ plan is the largest and most complex ever undertaken in the region. He pointed out the Klamath Basin plan will encompass five refuges, while most plans are for only one refuge.

Baun said budget cuts and sequestration, which resulted in staff shortages, have slowed progress. However, finalizing the conservation plan has remained a top priority for Fish and Wildlife, he said. An internal USFWS draft is undergoing review now, he added.

“We are working to complete it as soon as possible,” Baun said.

McCarthy said he would like Fish and Wildlife to release a public draft soon.

“We understand there is draft; we don’t know what condition it’s in,” McCarthy said.

The Klamath Basin NWR complex hosts about 1 to 2 million migrating birds per year, McCarthy said.

More than 22,000 refuge acres are leased for commercial agriculture, the release said.

“We would like them to look at whether it make sense to have water delivered to agricultural lease lands when the rest of the refuge goes dry,” McCarthy said.

“We anticipate numerous comments on various aspects of the draft, including agriculture,” Baun said.