NAS Report Backs
Klamath, Modoc Farmers
By Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation.
YOSEMITE -- A National
Academy of Sciences interim report indicates government scientists
did not have enough evidence to issue biological opinions that resulted
in the refusal of water to 1,400 farm families.
As a result, the Klamath Basin community
experienced a loss in excess of $200 million. The National Academy
of Sciences Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the
Klamath River Basin is a group of researchers hired by U.S.Secretary
of the Interior Gale Norton to review scientific decisions regarding
endangered species in the Klamath Basin.
In its report, the committee determined that
there is no substantial scientific foundation at this time for changing
the operation of the Klamath Basin Project to maintain higher water
levels in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered sucker populations or
higher minimum flows in the Klamath River main stem for threatened
coho salmon populations.
“I am walking on cloud nine. I feel like
an innocent person who is being released from prison and gets to
go home,” said Deb Crisp, Tulelake Growers Association executive
director and local alfalfa grower.
“The determination that the Klamath Project
has had no impact on the sucker species or the threatened coho salmon
means we should be able to operate. This carries a lot of weight
in that it will support what is in the biological assessment and
it will determine the outcome of the biological opinions. This means
Crisp and others in the Klamath Basin were
concerned about what the committee’s findings could mean for the
agricultural community, that the report would be anti-agriculture
and not based on sound science.
“We were scared to death of this thing.
It could have just as easily gone the other way had they not taken
the time to review all of the material,” Crisp said. “This report
says what we have been saying for 10 years. That is why I feel there
is a glimmer of hope of having your life back.
This land is part of us here and not to
be able to care for it and produce from it has been a nightmare.
Myself, my neighbors and this community, we are ready to go back
to being a community with a viable, agricultural economic base.”
“The National Academy of Sciences
report provides new credence for what farmers have said for years:
Government environmental agencies often base sweeping decisions
on flimsy evidence, built more on ideology than on sound science,”
said California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli
of the report. “The Klamath Basin decision reflected the agenda
of environmentalists and their allies in federal fisheries agencies,
who want to push agriculture off of large swaths of land in the
. By noting that the agencies had insufficient
evidence, the academy’s report exposes the bias behind government
rulings that can harm thousands of human lives. We hope the report
will encourage the government to pursue balanced policies throughout
the West that allow fish and people to coexist,” he said. In October
of 2001, the Department of Interior signed an agreement with
the National Academy of Sciences to review scientific and
technical information used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and National Marine Fisheries Service to evaluate the
effects of operations of the Klamath Project on the threatened coho
salmon and endangered Lost River and short-nosed suckers.
The purpose was to evaluate existing scientific
information and review the way it was applied in developing the
February 2001 biological assessments of the Bureau of Reclamation
and April 2001 biological opinions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
It was these opinions that led to the impairment
of farming and ranching in the Klamath Basin during 2001. Biological
opinions based on “scientific” information reported that no water
would be available from Upper Klamath Lake to supply the majority
of farmers of the Klamath Project. About 70,000 acre-feet of water
was made available for some growers on the east side of the basin,
but an estimated 1,400 farms across 210,000 acres were left with
The reasoning behind the shutoff of water
deliveries had to do with a severe drought, and maintaining high
water levels in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River to protect
the threatened coho salmon and endangered sucker fish.
The Bureau of Reclamation concluded that
operations of the Klamath Basin Project would be harmful to the
welfare of the fish species without constraints on water levels.
Based on the committee’s findings, data
behind the biological opinion “has not shown a clear connection
between water level in the Upper Klamath Lake and conditions that
are adverse to the welfare of the suckers. “There is no substantial
scientific foundation for changing the operation of the Klamath
Project to maintain higher water levels in the Upper Klamath Lake
for the endangered sucker populations or higher minimum flows in
the Klamath River main stem for thý threatened coho population,”
the committee stated in its report.
“The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
proposals are also unjustified. The committee finds no substantial
scientific evidence supporting changes in the operating practices
that have produced the observed levels in the Upper Klamath Lake
and the observed main stem flows over the past 10 years.”
The committee indicated it will make a
more comprehensive and detailed consideration of the environmental
requirements of the endangered suckers and threatened coho in the
Klamath River Basin over the next year when it will develop final
Norton said she is concerned about the
weaknesses in the science used by both the Fish and Wildlife
Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to create
these opinions. “The National Academy of Sciences’ study
indicates that there were flaws with respect to critical components
of the analysis in the biological opinions and assessments. Significantly,
among the academy’s conclusions is its finding that there was no
substantial scientific foundation for requiring higher water levels
in Upper Klamath Lake or higher water levels in the Klamath River,”
Norton said. “By challenging the analysis, the study will affect
our decision making process for this year and future years.”
Norton has instructed Steve Williams, the
newly confirmed director of the Fish and Wildlife Service,
and John Keys, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, to evaluate
the National Academy of Sciences’ findings and respond with
a report within 10 days.
“We are focused on making good decisions
that are based on accurate and reliable science and that is something
that many people can agree on, is the need for accurate and reliable
science in our decision making process,” said Mark Pfeifle, U.S.
Department of the Interior press secretary. “That is what will
move us along so we can both nurture the health of our environment
and of our citizens.”
to the Editor