[env-trinity] Indian Country Today: In the Klamath, Politics Defeat Science and Common Sense

Regina Chichizola hooparivers at gmail.com
Thu Feb 7 13:58:33 PST 2013

In the Klamath, Politics Defeat Science and Common Sense

In the Klamath, Politics Defeat Science and Common Sense

The AP has reported that seven fisheries scientists from the Klamath Bureau
of Reclamation (BOR) filed a complaint claiming they had been the victims
of political retribution. Like many who came before them these scientist
claimed their science was being tampered with for political reasons. The
Klamath BOR responded that they were actually engaged in a restructuring
and would be tasking the US Geological Survey with future scientific
studies because the larger scientific community and Tribes did not consider
the BOR’s science credible.

No matter who is telling the truth, recent claims of retribution by
government scientist come as no surprise. The Klamath Bureau of Reclamation
(BOR) has used bad science in the past. No one living on the Klamath can
forget the Bush Administration decision to manipulate Klamath science in
2002 and the subsequent death of 60,000 salmon followed by years of fishing
disaster declarations because of scant salmon populations. It appears we
may be slipping back toward those dark days.

The Klamath River is the third largest river in the West. It hosts five
California tribes, including its largest, and regulates the West Coast’s
iconic commercial fishing industry. Its water aids no major cities and
therefore the River has the greatest chance for fisheries recovery in the
West. Even the Klamath’s one large corporation, PacifiCorp, has agreed it
should remove its dams to aid fish recovery.

Yet, nowhere have water wars been fiercer. Lawlessness regarding water and
pollution is common. Tribal senior water rights are still compromised.
Science often takes a back seat in decisions. To the detriment of an entire
ecosystem, the lands, including public lands, are drained and farmed with
little regulation to benefit subsidized farms.

Currently, Klamath settlements, including the Klamath Basin Restoration Act
(KBRA) add to the lawlessness by lowering flows. Dam removal, which would
greatly benefit the Klamath River, continues to be tied to a bad water
sharing agreement that sacrifices Tribal Rights. The settlement was a great
effort to bring people together, but it provides less water then the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) currently calls for. The KBRA even state the
government and trustee for Klamath Tribes will not exercise water rights,
even if the Tribes are not party to the agreement.

Last year Klamath flows were too low for the salmon runs and extra water
was needed from the Trinity River, a tributary to the Klamath, to avoid a
fish kill. Next year the Bureau of Reclamation proposes to lower flows to
levels not supported by science, and without the benefit of dam removal.
Agencies tasked to protect the environment oftentimes fold to
anti-fisheries pressure. Widely accepted concepts like fish need water are
studied for decades on the Klamath, with no conclusions drawn.

Here are some recent examples of how politics is currently dominating

•    This past December, almost twenty years after the original proposal,
the Fish and Wildlife Service finally defined mandated critical habitat for
endangered Short Nose and Lost River Suckers. The result: agencies agreed
to remove the species from the Lost River, for which the species was named,
and a wildlife refuge, to prioritize farming. In the end the total acreage
of critical sucker habitat was reduced by 630,000 acres, a 72 percent
reduction in habitat. These fish only exist in the Klamath and are
declining fast.

•    Late last fall flows for Coho salmon were reduced by 23 percent even
though just months before flows had to be increased in the Trinity River to
avoid a fish kill. Now Reclamation plans to reduce Klamath flows even more.

•    Despite claims of proponents, the KBRA reduces water for fish,
ignoring studies proving fish need water. Government studies, which are
posted on the KlamathRestoration.gov website, show that in most years the
KBRA will provide less water than fish need and less than the current
ESA-required flows.

•    Similarly the Clean Water Act seems not to apply in the Klamath.
Studies show that the Klamath dams and farmers’ pollution create record
levels of toxic algae. However, the only Clean Water Act process that can
address this issue was recently delayed for the seventh year even though
the law calls for it to proceed within a year of the polluter’s,
PacifiCorp, application.

•    The Scott River, which now goes dry in the summer, was once one of the
biggest Coho producing tributaries to the Klamath. Numerous studies have
shown the dewatering of the river has accelerated due to unregulated ground
water pumping. A groundwater study in progress could prove this, yet
agriculture interest control the study and water data is kept secret.

It is time for species protection and scientific integrity to take priority
over politics in the Klamath, before it is too late. The fate of six Tribes
and the west coast fishing industry depends on it.

*Leonard Masten is the chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. He has been
active with the Tribal council for the last fourteen years and is a retired
law enforcement officer with over 26 years of experience.   His main goal
as Tribal chairman is to make the Hoopa Valley a safe and drug free

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