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February 6, 2002
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 a lot.”
     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 West
     . 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 nothing.
     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 conclusions.
     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.”


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