[env-trinity] Guest Column Oregon LIve- Klamath tribes: Respect our Rights and our Expertise

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Jan 17 14:19:00 PST 2012


Klamath tribes: Respect our Rights and our Expertise

Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012, 11:54 AM

 By Guest Columnist
By Don Gentry

The Klamath Tribes lost our c'iyaal's (salmon) and meYas (steelhead) to dam construction nearly a century ago. But now, Congress has an historic opportunity to pass landmark legislation that restores our fisheries, creates jobs, and promotes economic and ecological sustainability for Klamath Basin communities -- tribes, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and conservationists. 

Thousands of salmon line the shores of the Klamath River in September of 2002. The fish kill was thought to be caused by a low warm river as the salmon tried to make it upstream for spawning season. Bruce Ely/The Oregonian
The Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act represents the type of bi-partisan regional economic development plan Congress should support. We are joined in our support for the legislation by many respected conservation organizations and sportsmen groups. We applaud Senator Merkley's leadership, and urge Senator Wyden and Representative Walden to join in moving the bill through Congress expeditiously. 

The Klamath Basin agreements that the bill would implement are really an innovation: after decades of fighting and suing each other over scarce water, groups in the Basin, including not just the Klamath Tribes but other tribes, farmers, ranchers, fishing families and conservation groups have developed a collaborative approach to managing the water. 

But innovation always comes with detractors. In a recent Oregonian opinion article WaterWatch claimed that tribal rights are "trampled" by this legislation. In fact, opposing the legislation opposes returning salmon and steelhead to our homelands. WaterWatch is the one trampling on tribal treaty rights here, not the legislation. 

Equally important are the science and conservation issues. The legislation marks a fundamental improvement in resource management. It moves beyond regulation-based litigation that narrowly addresses symptoms to collaboration that addresses root causes of environmental problems, for the first time ever in the Klamath. Some major actions include: 

Removing four Klamath River dams, re-opening hundreds of miles of habitat to salmon and steelhead, and restoring their access to the largest concentration of cold water in the entire basin. 

Limiting withdrawal of water for the Klamath Irrigation Project to already-negotiated, reasonable amounts, getting water to fish when they need it most, and protecting against excessive groundwater use. 

Eliminating toxic algae blooms that poison the river. 

Improving river temperature and flow regimes from conditions experienced over the past 50 years, restoring more natural patterns. 

Implementing integrated and collaborative ecosystem restoration, monitoring, water management, nutrient reduction, and salmon reintroduction strategies, designed to restore functional river, wetland and riparian ecosystems needed to recover fish populations and eliminate environmental conflict. 

An effective Drought Plan, which in extreme conditions will increase in-stream water for fish by up to 150,000 acre feet. 

Strategic, voluntary reductions in diversions above Upper Klamath Lake, which will significantly increase tributary inflows. 

Increasing the amount and reliability of water supplies for National Wildlife Refuge wetlands, which now often go dry. 

No entity has come up with an alternative that is as comprehensive or effective. Litigation, the preferred tool of most detractors on both the left and the right, simply cannot deliver the multi-faceted solutions that Klamath problems require. 

The Klamath Tribes negotiated a Treaty with the United States more than 100 years ago to permanently preserve natural resources that have been central to our subsistence and cultural integrity for thousands of years. Nobody wants thriving fish and wildlife populations more than we do. We helped build the legislation, structured around bi-partisan agreement with farmers and ranchers and based in years of scientific and legal analysis. We have been in the trenches for decades on these issues, employing knowledgeable, effective scientists and attorneys whose work helped make the legislation possible. Groups like WaterWatch should respect our expertise, judgment, and sovereignty in such matters -- paternalistic expressions of concern for tribal rights are not appreciated. 

We urge our congressional leaders to follow the path of collaboration we helped to blaze. 

Don Gentry is is vice chairman of the Klamath Tribes.

© 2012 OregonLive.com. All rights reserved.

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