Wildlife is Suffering Too, Say Desperate Klamath Farmers

spectr17

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Wildlife is Suffering Too, Say Desperate Klamath Farmers.

By Pat Taylor, CNSNews.com Correspondent
July 16, 2001

(CNSNews.com) - With all hope gone for producing any crops this year, the desperate farmers of Oregon's Klamath Basin are now emphasizing the plight of the wildlife and waterfowl that also depend on irrigation water, which the federal government has diverted away from farmland to save endangered fish.

A growing crowd of farm families has gathered in protest near the headgates of the main irrigation canal. All on-the-scene accounts in this report were received by email or cell phone from people who are there, on the ground.

On Friday evening the protesters partially opened the headgates, releasing some irrigation water, as they did on the Fourth of July.

But early Saturday morning, federal officials arrived to close the gates. Federal marshals locked themselves inside the fence that surrounds the headgates in order to prevent further water releases. The protesters were sent outside the fence, where they have been camped out ever since.

On Sunday afternoon, about 300 people watched and cheered as a group of farmers constructed a makeshift pumping station and began pumping water out of Upper Klamath Lake.

The water flowed around the fenced-in headgates. through an eight-inch irrigation pipe, spilled onto the ground and eventually back into the irrigation canal. It was a symbolic gesture, since the small amount of water is too little, too late to help farmers recover any crops from their parched fields.

The makeshift "pumping station" is on city land, thus bypassing the federal headgates. Before long, however, the federal agents on duty helped farmers run the pipe through the fence so the water could flow directly into the irrigation canal to prevent erosion of the canal bank.

Farmers downstream agreed not to divert the water for irrigation, so it can reach the Tulelake Wildlife Refuge, at the other end of the basin in California.

The wildlife refuge is a major stop for migrating ducks, geese, swans, bald eagles and more than 400 species of wildlife.

This year, without the irrigation water that it relies on, the refuge has turned into a death trap for the birds. Their carcasses already are beginning to litter the landscape. Newspaper reports say biologists expect close to a thousand bald eagles and up to 25,000 waterfowl to die of disease and starvation.

In addition to the birds, other wildlife such as deer, antelope and pheasants are also dying of starvation without the water and habitat normally provided by the irrigation canals and croplands.

The solution proposed by activist environmental organizations such as the Oregon Natural Resources Council - which forced the government to shut off the irrigation water through "citizen lawsuits" under the Endangered Species Act - is another threatened lawsuit to take more irrigation water from farmers.

This time they want to take the water from farmers who are getting it from federal reservoirs other than Upper Klamath Lake and divert it to the wildlife refuge.

The farmers think a better solution is to turn on the irrigation water so that the humans and wildlife in the basin can survive along with the allegedly endangered fish.

Although the small amount of water currently being released from the lake is not expected to restore the wildlife refuge, it is a symbolic gesture that the farmers believe demonstrates the fact that they are the true environmentalists, not the activists who forced the irrigation water to be turned off with no regard for the wildlife.

As of 7:30 p.m. Sunday evening, the water was still flowing, and the gathered crowd could be heard singing hymns and making plans to host a barbecue Monday evening for the reinforcements that are reportedly on their way from all over the country.

"We plan to stay here as long as the federal agents are here," Klamath farmer Dick Carlton told CNSNews in a cell phone interview Sunday evening.

Although the situation was a bit tense when the federal agents first arrived, given that the protesters were willing to go to jail if necessary, Carlton said there have been no problems between the feds and the farmers. "We even get a laugh out of them every now and then," he said.

The farmers haven't lost their sense of humor either. At one point Sunday afternoon, a photo was circulated of the federal agents "locked up" inside the fence, on which someone had posted a sign that read, "Federal Agent Viewing Area."
 

tommyo

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This article underscores the fact that the the ESA or those that have interpreted it for the Klamath Basin are irresponsible.
 

Jay

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The Klamath basin plight made the front page of the SF Comical today.
 

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