Yurok Youth Ask Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland About State of North Coast Salmon, Climate Crisis

On August 11 in the Redwood National and State Park where some of the world’s tallest and most majestic trees reach to the sky, Yurok youth Repoy and K’nek’nek Lowry from the Trinidad Elementary Water Protectors met with and asked questions of Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland about the local climate crisis and the state of the salmon on the Klamath River.

10-year-old Repoy Lowry explained why he decided to ask the Secretary of Interior about the North Coast rivers. “I felt like I was doing something important for my community, the fish, and the earth,” Repoy said.

K’nek’nek’ Lowry said it was “very exciting” to meet the first Native American Secretary of Interior.

“It was so intense. My mind was racing, but I said the right things. It turned out beautiful!” said K’nek’nek’.

Repoy and K’nek’nek are working with Save California Salmon as part of their Youth Water Protector Media Makers Project, part of the Advocacy and Water Protection in Native California Curriculum project. The curriculum was developed by SCS, the Blue Lake Rancheria and Humboldt Counties’ Pathmakers Project and the Yurok Tribe Visitor Center.

According to the Two Rivers Tribune, the Secretary’s two-day visit to Humboldt County included a press conference at Woodley Island in Eureka to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to build a clean energy economy and create jobs, including spurring offshore wind development, and meetings and tours with local tribal leaders, including the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes.

Her visit culminated with a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at the Wolf Creek Education Center in Redwood National and State Park, located on Redwood National and State Park land within Yurok ancestral territory.

The two youth met with Secretary Haaland after Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James spoke at the press conference with Haaland, US Congressman Jared Huffman, Redwood National Park Deputy Superintendent Dave Roemer, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory and Save the Redwoods League President Sam Hodder, according to a press statement from the Yurok Tribe.

Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a Secretary in a Presidential Cabinet and the second-ever to serve in a Presidential Cabinet; the first was Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936), a member of the Kaw Nationwho served as the 31st Vice-President of the United States from 1929 to 1933 under Herbert Hoover.

“After it was over with, it was exciting,” concluded K’nek’nek’ Lowry. “Secretary Haaland  is the first Native American woman in her position. I feel like things will take a turn for the better, and now she knows about our issues, and they matter to youth, and she can help!”

At the press conference, Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said, “Secretary Haaland, it is an honor and a privilege to have you here in Yurok Country. The creator answered our prayers. We are here to support you. We stand behind you. Thank you for the work that you are doing across the United States, in Indian Country. Thank you for your leadership.”

“I am so honored to be here,” said US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Thank you, Chairman James for having me. I appreciate the Tribe’s willingness to work with state and federal governments to make sure that we are approaching things in the right way.”

“Nature is essential to the health, well-being, and prosperity of every family and every community in America,” added Secretary Haaland. “It’s exciting to see the local partnerships in action that ensure future generations get to experience the wonder of the Redwoods, as we do today. This is the kind of collaboration that we are hoping to support across the country to conserve, connect and restore our lands and waters.”

Earlier in the day, the tribal, state and federal officials toured forested lands that are being restored by Redwood Rising, a partnership between Save the Redwood League, the National Park Service and California State Parks, according to the Tribe.

“The far-sighted Redwood Rising project aims to transform 70,000 acres of formerly logged lands back into old-growth forest. The Yurok Tribe’s award-winning salmon habitat restoration team has also worked on this effort to repair the redwood forest ecosystem,” the Tribe stated.

During the press conference, Secretary Haaland also acknowledged the devastating fires in Northern California and noted that climate change is “making fire seasons more intense as our firefighters deal with hotter, drier conditions, worsening drought conditions, and more extreme fire behavior.”

“The visit highlighted investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which includes nearly $1.5 billion for Interior’s wildland fire management programs to improve firefighter pay, reduce hazardous fuels on the landscape, and restore lands after the fire,” according to a Department of Interior press release.

The visit comes on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recent report that affirms that climate change is impacting the planet in unprecedented ways: IPCC Press Release on the Working Group I Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report.

The visit also follows a devastating spring for Chinook salmon on the Klamath River when most juvenile fall-run Chinooks migrating downriver perished from disease in low, warm water conditions before they could reach the ocean. On Friday, June 4, the Yurok Fisheries Department’s Fish Disease Monitoring Crew counted 361 dead juvenile Chinook salmon in a rotary screw trap on the Klamath River near Weitchpec.

“This is by far the single highest daily count of dead baby salmon since the Fisheries Department started collecting data on the catastrophic fish kill in early May. The deceased fish present the physical signs of a disease called Ceratonova shasta, which is killing salmon at an extremely rapid rate,” according to a statement from the Tribe at the time.

Not only are fall Chinook salmon in deep trouble on the Klamath this year, but so are endangered spring-run Chinook and Coho salmon.

On July 1, the Karuk Tribe filed a formal petition with the California State Water Resources Control Board demanding that it use its emergency powers to curtail water use in the Scott River, a major tributary of the Klamath, to prevent the extinction of the Southern Oregon – Northern California Coho Salmon (Coho): www.dailykos.com/…

“The worst water conditions in history led federal agencies to shut off 1,300 farms in the Upper Basin, but in the Scott Valley water users continue business as usual,” said Karuk Chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery. “They are dewatering the last stronghold of Coho salmon in the Klamath Basin, driving them to extinction.”

Then on August 12 the Karuk Tribe revealed that divers at the Salmon River Cooperative Spring Chinook and Summer Steelhead Population Snorkel Survey found only 95 Spring Chinook, the second lowest return counted in over 20 years, and the third year in a row of second lowest numbers.

The Salmon River cooperative dive surveys have occurred every year since 1994, and have ranged from 90 to 1,600 spring Chinook salmon, with an average of over 650 fish, the Tribe said in a statement.

“It’s like watching a loved one on life support,” said Karuk Tribal Chair Russell “Buster” Attebery. “We won’t stop fighting for them.”

From August 1 through 4, additional Trinity River water from Lewiston Reservoir was released to help migrating spring-run Chinook salmon in this unprecedented drought year.

“Hopefully, this action will follow with a robust Klamath Fall Augmentation Release (FARs) for fall chinook fish passage in lower Klamath River beginning as early as August 15 if they follow their EIS,” a news release from the Hoopa Valley Tribe stated. “We also greatly appreciate the Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Department for their hard work on these efforts.”

Considering the crisis that Klamath River salmon are now in, dam removal can’t come too soon. In a big step toward the removal of four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, recently approved the transfer of the license for the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, as well as the states of California and Oregon, who will be co-licensees. For more information, read.


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