FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Federal Judge Throws Out Bush Salmon Plan for the Klamath River

by DAN BACHER

A federal judge in Oakland on July 17 rejected the Bush administration’s plan to “protect” threatened Klamath River coho salmon from the devastating impact of the Klamath Irrigation Project and ordered the agency to revise the plan.

Judge Saundra Armstrong of the U.S. District Court ruled that incidental take permit and reasonable and prudent alternative provisions of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2002 biological opinion are “arbitrary and capricious.” Armstrong found that the 10 year plan was illegal because it didn’t meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

A broad coalition of commercial fishermen and conservation groups joined with Congressman Mike Thompson, the Yurok Tribe and the Hoopa Valley Tribe to file the lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and Bureau of Reclamation in September 2002. They charged that the agencies’ 10-year plan failed to leave sufficient water in the river for fish and relied on future, speculative actions from the states of California and Oregon to make up for the missing water. During the plan’s first five months, low, warm flows killed over 33,000 adult salmon in the largest fish kill in U.S. history.

Environmental, fishery and tribal groups celebrated the court’s decision as an important legal victory in the decades-long struggle to restore the Klamath, while the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) and Bureau of Reclamation dismissed the ruling as having little impact upon irrigators.

“Don’t believe the headlines you read in the major media outlets when you read about this case,” stated KWUA Executive Director Dan Keppen. “The environmentalist plaintiffs actually got very little out of this decision.”

Jeffrey McCracken, Bureau of Reclamation spokesman, said he expected the decision to have no immediate impact on irrigation water. “The judge made a good decision,” said McCracken. “The ruling allows the Klamath Project to continue operations and didn’t do anything that changes the flows.”

However, the plaintiffs said that the decision was a significant environmental victory, since it ruled that the Bush administration plan was illegal and ordered NMFS to develop a more fish-friendly plan.

“This decision gives hope to the families that depend on Klamath River salmon,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Asociations. “This case was about restoring balance to the basin so that fishermen, Native Americans, and irrigators can all receive a fair share of the water. We will now work on a new vision for the basin, and the legislation recently introduced by Congressman Thompson is the perfect place to start.”

Susan Masten, chair of the Yurok Tribe, also applauded the ruling. “The Yurok Tribe has repeatedly warned the Bureau of Reclamation that the plan presented unacceptable risks to the river’s salmon and fish,” she said. “The decision confirms what we’ve been saying all along – that Klamath salmon need water to survive and the Klamath Irrigation Project is putting the fishery at risk.”

Masten said the tribe was looking forward to participating in redesigning the plan so that it provides adequate flows for Klamath Basin fish.

“The Yurok tribe has the largest fisheries department in northern California with upwards of 60 staff,” she said. “We have decades of experience and expertise that is totally ignored by the Bush administration.”

She also noted that the court decision rebuffed the administration for trying to escape responsibility for the fish kill in 2002.

Because Klamath River coho are protected as a threatened species under the ESA, the National Marine Fisheries Service must approve any long-term irrigation plan devised by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Court said the Service’s approval of the Bureau’s long term plan violated the ESA because it relied on future actions by state, tribal and private parties that are not reasonably certain to occur. Judge Armstrong ruled that “NMFS provides no support for its assumption that the other state and private parties will agree to take part in the process, or that the process will in fact make progress toward and finally achieve the target flow rates.”

“A promise to provide a fraction of the water salmon need, sometime in the future, from somewhere, meets neither the requirements of the law nor of sound science,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The fish in the Klamath are in real trouble right now; they need real action, not vague promises.”

Although no recreational fishing groups joined in the lawsuit, Bob Strickland, president of United Anglers of California, praised the decision. “We have to protect endangered species, such as coho salmon, and the court’s decision is a step in the right direction,” said Strickland. “Both the farmers and salmon need water and the water should be distributed as equitably as possible. However, the fish have to come first.”

In February, Congressman Mike Thompson introduced comprehensive legislation to address the Klamath Basin’s problems. The Klamath River Basin Restoration and Emergency Assistance Act would allocate $200 million to landowners and tribes throughout the Klamath Basin who participate in water conservation projects. It merges the upper and lower Klamath Basin working groups into one to ensure that the North Coast communities are at the table when decisions are made.

“The only way we are going to solve the water crisis is by bringing the demand for water back into balance with what the environment can sustain and to manage this resource responsibly,” said Thompson.

Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of PCFFA and Institute for Fisheries Resources, joined by The Wilderness Society, WaterWatch of Oregon, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Klamath Forest Alliance, Headwaters, and Congressman Thompson. The Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes joined the plaintiffs, while the Cities of Arcata and Eureka, Del Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties and the Humboldt Bay, Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs.

DAN BACHER can be reached at: danielbacher@hotmail.com

For more information visit the Klamath Basin Coalition website at: www.klamathbasin.info.

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail