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News, notes, trip reports, and the lighter side (of the wilder side) of the Oregon environmental and conservation movement.
The natural marshes of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges are at the end of a lengthy cycle of use, and rely upon Bureau of Reclamation management for water. But agricultural interests gets first dibs, even in a drought.
The high-elevation Klamath Basin in southern Oregon marks the drainage point of three major western rivers, and contains hundreds of square miles of what should be, and what once were, reliably verdant natural marshes. For centuries, this basin has been an oasis for wildlife.
The source of inspiration for Robert Northshield's 1972 book The People's Birds, the marshes of the Klamath Basin are habitat for hundreds of thousands of birds and waterfowl, including more than 500 bald eagles which winter in the basin each year. The area is also one of the crucial stops along the Pacific Flyway, a virtual freeway for north-south migratory bird traffic along the west coast. At least 80 percent of west coast waterfowl migrate through the Klamath Basin during the fall.
The discovery of a decades-old book offers renewed hopes of a better future for the wildlife of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.
By Wendell Wood
As the marshes of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge sit this summer without water, I was recently struck by the discovery of a somewhat outdated, but now poignant book on the subject of the majesty of our nation's waterfowl and other birds. A friend in Klamath Falls recently stumbled across it, ironically in the "for sale" section at the Klamath Falls Public Library.
Called The People's Birds, this relatively obscure and mostly forgotten photographic coffee table book was published in 1972 by Charles Scribner's Sons in New York — featuring somewhat grainy, black and white photos of the most magnificent bird life found on several of America's premiere wildlife refuges — including on the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges.
Only a full-scale overhaul of the Klamath Project will begin to address the acute problem of too much water promised to too many entities in the basin, with native wildlife and fish paying the steepest price.
By Tommy Hough
As the Klamath Basin heads into a cataclysmic drought year with less than 33 percent of the region's normal snowpack, it is a foregone conclusion the natural marshes of the basin's National Wildlife Refuges will be left perilously high and dry in 2013.
The scope of this summer's coming toll on the Klamath Basin is hard to fathom. Water levels are so low it will even shock veterans of the 2001 and 2002 "low water" years, when 60 percent of normal snowpack resulted in chaos. Governor Kitzhaber and irrigators are already flying the drought emergency flag, though state help only goes to farmers and ranchers. In the Klamath Basin, native and migratory wildlife are on their own, even as they are robbed of water.
Thousands of acres of National Wildlife Refuge wetlands in the Klamath Basin will go without water this year. All signs are pointing to an unprecedented disaster.
By Wendell Wood
Sadly, 2013 will see a repeat of one of the most devastating symptoms of the Klamath Basin's numerous water problems: thousands of acres of crucial National Wildlife Refuge wetlands in the Klamath will be without water.
Unfortunately, this sad state of affairs reflects the norm in the Klamath Basin, where too much water has been promised to too many interests. Even in years of abundant water flow, this annual refuge de-watering represents the continuation of a policy of favoring agribusiness interests while avoiding cost-effective, long-term solutions which would bring water demand in the basin into balance with actual supplies.
In a strange twist, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) has become the greatest impediment to the proposed removal of Klamath River dams.
The billion-dollar KBRA isn't going anywhere, gives false hope to interests which would benefit from it, and is causing state and federal agencies to ignore worsening conditions for wildlife and endangered species in the basin for fear of upsetting the deal.
As long as there appears to be some hope for the KBRA and the money that would come with it in Congress, government agencies and stakeholders in the Klamath Basin will continue to allow PacifiCorp to continue with their fish-killing status quo. No Act of Congress is necessary to remove the dams.
Klamath-area National Wildlife Refuges are being forced to drain massive amounts of water, while nothing is being asked of industrial irrigators.
By Wendell Wood
It has come to our attention Lower Klamath and Tule Lake NWRs are being required to deliver 5,600 acre feet of water from the refuge to the Klamath River. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) maintains this is being done so the agency won't have to otherwise release additional water from Upper Klamath Lake.
While the BOR claims it needs to do so to maintain Upper Klamath lake levels for endangered species purposes, it is also doing so for the principal purpose of "recharging" the lake to its maximum elevation prior to the onset of the 2013 irrigation season.
This week'f feature, Indian Rhubarb, might also occasionally be described as a “whale of a plant.”
Indian Rhubarb (also known as Umbrella Plant or Great Shield Leaf), Darmera peltata
As summer progresses, Indian Rhubarb’s lovely clusters of pink blossoms lose their petals, but their giant, roundish, umbrella-like leaf blades is what calls most people’s attention to this remarkable, streamside plant.
These leaves continue to grow ever larger, until some are truly as large an open umbrella, at least one to two feet wide, but sometimes a full yard across. The plant’s former scientific name, Peltiphyllum peltatum, in Greek means “shield leaf” in reference to its "peltate" leaves.
Also, like the more familiar garden Nasturtium leaves, a peltate leaf has the leaf stalk, or petiole, attached to the very center of a round blade, rather than attached most typically, along a leaf base or margin.
Klamath National Wildlife Refuge marshes aren't just for the birds anymore!
While badgers, Taxidea taxus (clearly not a species name given by a politically astute scientist) range throughout a broad swath of North America, it isn't often you see one other than on dry land. An Oregon Wild member from Bend once reported seeing a badger swimming at Moon River Reservoir near Malheur Lake. He reported that it was "a really hot day", and figured it was "just trying to cool off".
However, despite temperatures in the 70's, I got a rare treat on a recent 4th of July weekend while paddling Wocus Bay. Wocus bay is located in the Southeast end of the 40,000 acre Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and just to the East of Crater Lake National Park.
Is it a beaver? An otter? No...it's a badger! Read the captions below the pictures for the rest of the story:
Oregon Wild raises concerns over the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement's Draft Drought Plan
This spring the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) Drought Plan Lead Entity, a subset of the KBRA signature parties, released the agreement’s draft drought plan—a plan that had not been created when the controversial agreement was signed back in February 2010. While the long-awaited plan, open to public comment, was supposed to provide a structure and strategy for the basin’s response to drought or extreme drought under the KBRA, it fell significantly short of this anticipated agenda.
It’s no secret, given Oregon Wild’s concerns over the KBRA and its partnered Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), we had high expectations for one of the deal’s most critical elements—the Drought Plan. As we all know, the Klamath doesn’t make headlines in average or wet years. Instead, anxieties and blood pressures rise when the river and lakes fall low and the summer temperatures hit highs. The Drought Plan was to be the key to resolving the uncertainties posed by drought in the Klamath under the KBRA. Instead, reviewers found a framework for a plan, a plan for a plan, a shadow, hint, ghost of a plan.
You can access the draft plan here and review Oregon Wild’s comments on the Draft Drought Plan here. A few excerpts from our comments include:
-The Draft Drought Plan is notable for its general lack of specifics regarding the nature and extent of any future response to drought or extreme drought under the KBRA. The plan does not identify the likely success of its programs or offer details on how they would function. Given its general nature, it is hard to envision how the plan would be used to address the significant flow deficits that could result from implementation of the diversion limitation in certain years.
-The draft plan implies the use of “best available science” when evaluating drought risk (Section 5.2.1.B), however there is no evidence of the basin’s best available science being used in the development of the draft plan itself.
Klamath Basin Biological Opinions, irrigator demands, and mixed agency management make meeting the needs of Klamath fish a challenge.
Like a good American, I sat diligently in front of my television last week and watched the President’s State of the Union. I actually felt a little proud of myself. Usually, I feign boredom or busyness and don’t make it through the whole speech—what with all the up and down and clapping and delays for bad jokes—but this year, now that we’re in D.C., I felt some obligation to buckle down and pay attention.
This was the right year. Of course, for me, the hubbub over salmon was thrilling and remarkably accurate. Last week, salmon were very much on the Oregon Wild brain. Along with our partners the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Information Center, and the Larch Company, Oregon Wild filed a petition to list the Klamath-Trinity Chinook salmon under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The goal of the petition is to establish protections for the dwindling wild spring Chinook population in the Klamath-Trinity River watersheds. You can read more about this effort here. After working on this petition effort for some time now, it seemed all the more appropriate that the President’s speech called out one of the greatest challenges in establishing protections for salmon—agency management.