Monday, May 5, 2008

Underachievement on the Klamath: Environmental and fishing groups collect big bucks, get little done!

There are 16 national, regional and local environmental and fishing organizations in the Klamath Basin Coalition. The following organizations are members: American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Friends of the River, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Basin Audubon Society, Klamath Forest Alliance, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Wild, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Sierra Club, Klamath Riverkeeper, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Waterwatch of Oregon.

The Coalition’s website ( lists its mission as “conserving and restoring the biological resources of the West's once-great Klamath Basin”. It has been in operation for a dozen or so years. Most of the members receive foundation funding and individual donations for work in the Klamath River Basin; some have been receiving funding to “Save the Klamath” for over two decades.

Judging from the condition of the Klamath River, the River’s aquatic resources and its salmon stocks the Coalition has been a failure. During the time it has been in operation water quality in the Klamath River and several tributaries has deteriorated. Significant tributaries like the Shasta and Scott continue to be progressively dewatered. In watersheds which once were and could again be the Basin’s “breadbasket” for salmon production, Spring Chinook have been extirpated and Fall Chinook can no longer make it to the best spawning grounds even in “average” water years. Klamath River Fall Chinook salmon stocks are predicted at the lowest level since predictions began more than two decades ago and wild Spring Chinook salmon survive at the brink of extinction. If the Klamath Basin Coalition were judged on performance – like America’s schoolchildren are judged – it would be assigned a failing grade.

But judging the Coalition and its members by the state of the resources it strives to “conserve and restore” is a bit unfair. After all, these organizations do not make the decisions; they are advocacy groups, not resource management agencies. But we can judge the Coalition on the actions they have and have not taken. Let’s look at that:

The Klamath Basin Coalition receives high grades for acting to make sure that biological opinions for Kuptu and Tsuam (sucker species) and for Coho salmon utilize the best available science and take the actions needed to avoid jeopardy to these ESA listed species. This has been done through litigation by a sub-set of Coalition members lead by Earthjustice.

But even when we consider the Kuptu, Tsuam and Coho the Coalition comes up short. Why have they not sued to force the feds to complete recovery plans for Kuptu and Tsuam? Why are they allowing the dire condition of these species in the Lost River sub-basin to go unaddressed? And why have these environmental and fishing groups ignored the well documented “take” of Coho salmon in the Scott River?

It also remains to be seen whether the Coalition will continue to challenge Biological Opinions which do not adequately provide for Coho, Tsuam and Kuptu. A new Biological Opinion has been issued for Kuptu and Tsuam and one is expected soon for Coho. Will Earthjustice and the Coalition decide not to challenge new biological opinions in order to demonstrate “goodwill” toward irrigators with whom they have collaborated on the proposed Klamath Water Deal?

The new biological opinion for Kuptu and Tsuam does not find that the Klamath Project will cause “jeopardy” to these endangered fish – a first since the two species were listed under the ESA. Is that judgment based on science or politics? And if the Opinion is based on politics will the Coalition look the other way because its members don’t want to offend their new friends in the Klamath Water Users Association whom Coalition members want to support dam removal?

The Coalition has also failed to take any action to protect Klamath River Spring Chinook. Where is the petition to list this species, where is the challenge to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s failure to develop a management plan for Spring Chinook as required by law? And where is the challenge to the fact that the California Fish and Game Commission continues to allow take of wild Klamath River Spring Chinook in the lower river? Ironically, the Klamath Basin Coalition has failed to protect the very Spring Chinook stock that it says it wants to restore to the Upper Basin once the dams are out. At the rate things are going there will be no Spring Chinook stock left in the Klamath River to restore when the dams finally come down a dozen or so years from now.

On the other hand, many Coalition members are involved in efforts to decommission four of PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams. Trout Unlimited deserves special recognition here for creating the TANGO group which linked tribes, agencies and NGOs (environmental and fishing groups) in efforts to build a common perspective on dam impacts and decommissioning as the best course for the River. But TU, American Rivers and several other Coalition members abandoned good science, failed to support the Public Trust Doctrine and ignored recommendations of two National Research Council reports on the Klamath when they endorsed the proposed Klamath Water Deal. In a weak negotiating position because of the Water Deal and desperate for a dam removal agreement these organizations may now be poised to provide PacifiCorp with a sweetheart dam removal deal at the expense of the American Taxpayers.

Turning to water quality, Klamath Riverkeeper deserves high marks for being the only group involved in the Klamath willing to file lawsuits to challenge water quality in the Klamath River which is killing most of the juvenile salmon produced in the mainstem and many salmon produced in tributaries. KR has done this with financial resources which are far below those being collected from foundations for Klamath work by the larger environmental and fishing groups.

But so far Klamath Riverkeeper has failed to take on what at least one of its founders had hoped it would focus on – poor water quality in the Klamath River’s two top salmon producing watersheds – the Shasta and Scott. Deteriorating water quality in the Shasta – and especially in the Scott – is related to the progressive dewatering of these basins which has proceeded based on flaws in the water rights adjudications for these sub-basin’s. Yet Klamath Riverkeeper has not only failed to take on the adjudications it has also failed to challenge inadequate pollution clean-up plans adopted by the Northcoast Water Board. And, under pressure from the Karuk Tribe, KR continues to fail to do anything about the toxic algae and mercury pollution found in Dwinnell Reservoir on the Shasta River.

Allowing the destruction of the Shasta and Scott – the Klamath River Basin’s top salmon producers – constitutes a major failure of the Klamath Basin Coalition and a situation the Coalition and its members show no indication they will correct anytime soon. How can environmental and fishing organizations which are collecting millions to “conserve and restore” the Klamath River Basin and its fisheries justify ignoring the Shasta and Scott? The answer is that they cannot justify this gross negligence but they can get away with it because no one is raising objections.

Some would argue that the Klamath River Dams issue is so big that even with 16 member groups the Klamath Basin Coalition can not take on other issues no matter how serious. But the truth is that most of the 16 members do no real work on the dam issue – they simply sign-on to the work of others – collecting money for the work others do.

Finally, there are the Klamath Basin’s national wildlife refuges which Klamath Basin Coalition members’ web sites correctly identify as among the nation’s most important habitats for water birds and water fowl. The Coalition initially formed because the refuges were being dewatered and because the needs of wildlife were being sacrificed in order to serve the needs of commercial agriculture operating on the refuges. But, while the rhetoric about the importance of the refuges has been retained, neither the Coalition nor any of its members has taken any substantial actions in recent years to restore the refuges or to challenge commercial uses which are damaging wildlife. In fact, those Coalition members which have endorsed the Klamath Water Deal have agreed to water management that will result in “take” of Bald eagles which winter on the refuges. This “take” should be the subject of a lawsuit but instead the Coalition and its members are allowing it to go unchallenged.

The “underachievement” of the Klamath Basin Coalition and its sixteen members is, unfortunately, not unique. Rather it is symptomatic of an environmental movement which has become too professionalized, too close to power, too polite and too willing to compromise fundamentals which should not be compromised. In fact, the “environmental movement” is not a movement at all but rather a set of corporations more concerned with money and power than with the fate of the Earth and its biological resources.

The environmental establishment in this country needs a shake up and so does the Klamath Basin Coalition. We need the folks who are getting funded big time to fix our River to get off their collective butts and take on the other real and pressing issues that have nothing to do with the dams but everything to do with whether we are going to end the downward slide of Klamath Salmon, Kuptu and Tsuam and the aquatic ecosystems on which they depend. If you are a member of one of the organizations listed above a call or e-mail to the organization’s president should be considered. You can find contact information on the organizations web site and you can demand that your message be delivered to the organizations CEO and Board of Directors.

Until the members on which these environmental and fishing organizations depend demand better performance the current level of “underachievement” – compromising good science and the fate of our rivers and ecosystems - will continue.

If we can’t get them to begin taking on the issues which need to be addressed, Klamath River Basin residents need to consider forming a new organization to do the work which the Klamath Basin Coalition and its 16 member groups refuse to do. Or we may need to invite into the Basin organizations which are not currently involved but which have a record of non-compromise when it comes to science and defending species and ecosystems. If those who say they are working to “conserve and restore the biological resources of the West's once-great Klamath Basin” can not or will not get the job done - if they continue to underachieve – those who live in the Basin can and will find or create other organizations willing to do the work which is needed!

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