The Klamath Basin Restoration Conference held on Saturday, October 18 in Fort Jones brought together a diverse group of representatives from Klamath Basin Indian Tribes, commercial fishing groups, recreational angling organizations and environmental groups to meet and eat in an informal setting.
Klamath River Salmon and Guide, Conference attendee, Dan Carter The Conference illustrated the irony of the current status of the Klamath: the river, designated as the second most endangered river in the nation by the American Rivers organization, suffers from an intricate web of problems and habitat degradation. Yet the Klamath has the most potential of any major river system in the country for restoration because it has a largely intact watershed, with many remaining pristine tributaries like Blue Creek and the Salmon River.
This contrast between the Klamath’s current state and its potential for restoration was demonstrated in the presentation by Ron Reed, cultural biologist for the Karuk tribe, whose ancestral territory is the middle Klamath River, with its spiritual center around Ishi Pishi falls. Seven out of the eight tribes in the Klamath Basin, including the Yurok, Karuk, Shasta, Hoopa, Wintu, Tsnungwe and Nor-Rel-Muk, participated in the conference. The Upper Klamath tribe was unable to attend, due to a meeting with President Bush’s representative, but they did send a statement of support.
“We’re a federally recognized tribe without a reservation and without federally recognized fishing rights,” said Reed. But in spite of many of the extreme hardships that the tribe has gone through over the years, he and other tribal members continue to keep their tradition of fishing long dip nets below Ishi Pishi Falls during the salmon runs as they have done for thousands of years.
“There are five tribal members who still regularly fish and a total of 10 who at times fish in this traditional manner,” he said. “Our tradition is to catch the salmon and give them to our tribal elders for food while we teach the children to fish.”
After he showed conference participants a video of tribal members precariously perched on rocks as they fished in the falls, I commented, “that has to be the most difficult way I’ve ever seen to catch salmon. How long does it take to learn?”
“It takes an entire lifetime,” he responded.
In order to keep their tradition going – and to restore the river’s salmon and steelhead runs to their historical abundance – Reed emphasizes that “common ground” with agriculture and other users in the Klamath Basin must be reached.
“In order to fix the problem, we must do something different than we’re doing,” he said. “As a traditional fisherman at Ishi Pishi falls, when I hear of a farm bankruptcy in the basin, that’s no good. That doesn’t give me more water or more fish. We need to manage the Klamath River as a precious resource – and the polarization in the basin has to stop!”
The polarization in Klamath River communities he talked about was exemplified by a group of 20 protesters who picketed the conference, claiming that our gathering was some sort of secret meeting organized through the UN’s Biosphere Program to plot the takeover of farmland in the Scott Valley.
Protesters from the People for the USA had signs Larry Toelle, representing the People for the USA, said “we’re a community that’s hostile to the environmental movement. This community has been decimated – it used to have a vibrant economy. But they shut down the logging and mining – and now they’re trying to shut down agriculture.”
However, two leaders of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, who were invited to the meeting that morning by conference hosts Richard and Deborah Alves, Fish Sniffer webmasters, had a much different perspective.
Scott Murphy, an organic watermelon farmer in the Scott Valley, after hearing presentations by the tribes, fishermen and environmental groups said, “I think we’re all on the same page in wanting to restore the Klamath. Farmers and ranchers need to conserve water to restore the fisheries.”
He detailed his efforts to retrofit his sprinkler systems that have dramatically resulted in increased efficiency in irrigating his property. He also pointed out how he used to enjoy fishing on the Scott River that runs through his property, but can’t do it any more because of the decline of salmon and steelhead runs.
“Now that I own my own ranch, my son can’t fish like I did,” he said. “I’m hoping that we will someday see enough fish in the river to where we will able to fish the river again.”
Richard Sargent, a Karuk/Shasta Tribe elder The event, which featured 30 participants, began with an opening prayer by Jerry Hensher, and the introduction and setting of ground rules by Richard Sargent, a Karuk/Shasta Tribe elder.
“The Klamath Basin is a sick patient and we need to operate on it,” said Sargent, who had just returned from the hospital two days before after a heart operation. Sargent stressed the need for us to respect one another in our search for common solutions to Klamath Basin problems – and spoke on the significance of Indian sovereignty.
Felice Pace, of the Klamath Forest Alliance, spoke on “Why Restoration Is Not Succeeding In The Klamath Basin.” He noted how restoration of streams in the Klamath Basin has already put many dollars into the economy, creating a “restoration economy.” However, he said that under the Bush administration there is a “tendency to use restoration funds for other agendas and there is a danger of taxpayer money being wasted.”
Glen Spain, Northwest Region Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, said the basin’s problem is not there aren’t enough restoration efforts – it’s that we have “too much of the wrong type of restoration.”
After reviewing the extensive alphabet soup list of the dozens and dozens of government agencies that are involved in the Klamath Basin, he illustrated the challenge posed in restoring the basin. “The problem is fragmentation – nobody is really in charge,” said Spain. “The Basin is overappropriated, even while the Department of Interior continues to give out new groundwater permits.”
Conference attendees Dave Hillemier, Yurok Tribe fisheries biologist, did two excellent presentations, one on “The Causative Factors in the 2002 Fish Kill” and the other on “Status of Habitat Restoration on the Lower Klamath.”
Bob Hunter, WaterWatch of Oregon, discussed the history of the Klamath Basin water crisis and outlined what needs to be done to fix it.
Jill Geist, Humboldt County Supervisor, District 5, gave a short history of Trinity River diversions and the status of water contracts, including their legal battle to obtain 50,000 acre feet of water contracted to the county by the federal government in the late 1950’s.
Mike Orcutt, fisheries director of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, reviewed the tribe’s efforts, through litigation and legislation, to enforce the Trinity River Record of Decision of 2000. He revealed that the tribe has rejected a proposal from Westlands Water District for a Trinity River settlement, since the proposal has no new science. “The end of this battle is not near and the outcome is uncertain,” he summed up.
Mike Orcutt and facilitator Carol Wright Other presenters included Kelly Catlett, Friends of the River, who spoke on obtaining feasibility studies on fish passage and dam removal; Petey Brucker, Salmon River Restoration Council, who detailed the need for community involvement in the restoration process; and Tim McKay, North Coast Environmental Center, who discussed chemical pollution in the Klamath Basin and the need to support HR 1760, Rep. Mike Thompson’s Klamath River Restoration Plan.
Craig Tucker, Ph.D. and outreach director for Friends of the River, emphasized the need for linking the Klamath Basin restoration efforts to the Iron Gate and Copco Dam relicensing process in a collective media campaign.
All of the presenters were fascinating and had much to contribute to the restoration dialogue. The event was unique in that no government agencies were invited – so participants could speak more openly and freely than in the more structured, agency-controlled meetings that the participants often attend. In a campfire setting at the end of the conference, participants strategized on the solutions to Klamath Basin problems – and divided up into groups to work on dam relicensing and removal, habitat restoration and other issues.
What are the conference results? “The response from the participants after the conference was really positive – everybody learned something and the concept of meeting in a non-governmental forum was very valuable,” said Richard Alves. “Did it accomplish some specific, concrete goal? No, but it set the stage for specific things to be accomplished in the future by the diverse groups in the Klamath Basin.”
A larger issue looming in the background is the increasing demands for system water, due to increased population growth in southern Oregon and California. This highlights the need for cooperation between all Basin constituencies. “We just haven’t got time for the governmental agencies as they are functioning today to get the problem solved,” added Alves.