Sunday, March 30, 2008

Salmon Numbers and Salmon Politics - The Pacific Fisheries Management Council comes to Eureka April 1st!

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council will hold a hearing at the Red Lion Inn in Eureka on Tuesday April 1st beginning at 7 PM. The hearing will focus on the potential closure of all ocean salmon fishing coast-wide. But also at play will be Salmon numbers, Salmon politics, the proposed Klamath Agreement and the fate of Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook. These topics are explored below.

On November 30th last KlamBlog reported concerns that the number of Fall Chinook salmon returning to the Klamath and Trinity Rivers would not meet the "floor" of 35,000 naturally spawning Fall Chinook salmon which has been established by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. As some readers pointed out at the time, we were wrong! The run was late but when it came it was fairly robust. 2007 spawner survey results for Klamath-Trinity River Basin Fall Chinook have now been released. The results confirm that KlamBlog was wrong about the numbers but it also shows that our concern was right on the money.

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) estimate that 59,500 Fall Chinook salmon spawned naturally in the Klamath, Trinity and their tributaries in 2007; according to the reports, almost twice as many Fall Chinook spawned naturally in the Trinity and its tributaries than spawned naturally in the Klamath and its tributaries.

59,500 Fall Chinook natural spawners is not only well above the spawner escapement "floor" it is also well above the 41,000 Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook natural spawners which the PFMC has determined will produce the "maximum sustainable fisheries". Translate from fish speak, what this means is that, if we allow 41,000 or more Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook to spawn naturally, we will produce the maximum number of fish which can be caught 3 and 4 years from now without damaging future fisheries.

Readers may wonder why the PFMC is not managing for a maximum Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook fishery. This would be a good question to ask the Commission when it comes to Eureka's Red Lion Inn on April 1st at 7PM. There is more on that meeting below. But first....

Along with the good news, the 2007 Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook spawner survey reports contain some very bad news. Grilse (aka "Jack Salmon" or "Jacks") are sexually mature salmon which return to the river after only two years in the ocean. The number of grilse returning to the Klamath-Trinity has been found to be a good predictor of the next year's run size. That's because most of the salmon "run" these days is composed of fish which are three years old. Therefore, a large number of grilse this year indicates that a large number of 3 year old fish will return next year. Of course the opposite is also true – a small number of grilse returning indicates a small run next year.

According to DFG and PFMC reports, a total of 1,661 grilse returned to the Klamath-Trinity River system in 2007. This is the smallest grilse return since the DFG and cooperators began monitoring the Fall Chinook run systematically in 1978. The only year with a similarly small grilse run was 1991 when, according to DFG reports, 1,755 grilse returned to the Klamath-Trinity.

All Klamath-Trinity salmon stocks are regularly in trouble due – most fisheries scientists believe – to poor water quality, disease and dewatering in the main stem and major tributaries like the Scott and Shasta Rivers. These poor habitat conditions - combined with natural mortality and predation - wipe out most Klamath-Trinity downstream migrating and resident juvenile salmon in most years.

Occasionally, however, we will see a larger salmon run in the Klamath-Trinity River Basin. Most fisheries scientists believe this is the reflection of the occasional "good water year" - i.e. a year when the snow pack is deep and consequently when flows in the rivers and streams - and therefore also water quality - are better than normal. When a good water year leads to survival of most juvenile salmon, the Klamath-Trinity will typically have a good run of salmon 3 and 4 years later. Interestingly, it is the lack of these "good water years" which salmon biologist Bill Trush cited when he told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors that the much debated proposed Klamath Agreement would not lead to the recovery of Klamath-Trinity Salmon.

The 2007 collapse of salmon production, however, was not limited to the Klamath-Trinity River Basin; it appears to have been coast-wide. This may prompt a coast-wide salmon fishing ban or at least much reduced salmon seasons from the Canadian border south through California.

And that looming salmon fishing closure is the main reason the PFMC is coming to Eureka on April 1st. While much of the talk will focus on the economic impact a fishing closure will entail for coastal communities, perhaps those testifying will also focus attention on the failure of federal and state governments to protect and restore salmon habitat. So long as the government allows the dewatering of streams and rivers, allows timber corporations to clearcut unstable slopes and build salmon killing roads, and allows agriculture and other industries to pollute and degrade water quality, salmon will continue to struggle for survival.

While ocean conditions may be beyond our ability to control, we should never forget that the recurring "salmon crises" in the Klamath-Trinity River Basin remain substantially within our power to remedy. The key to RECOVERY is protecting and restoring habitat; and the key to habitat restoration is ending those activities and practices which degrade and destroy habitat.

As the Petey Brucker song reminds us: "Habitat. Habitat. Got to have the habitat!"


There is another important salmon topic that may come up Tuesday evening in Eureka. That topic is the fate of the other Klamath-Trinity Chinook stock - Spring Chinook (aka "Springers"). Once the dominant run in the Klamath-Trinity system, Spring Chinook now teeter on the verge of extinction. While Springers suffer from the same poor habitat conditions that affect Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook and Coho, there are other causes for the Springers dire condition. These include:

  • In a decision which many fisheries scientists consider politically motivated, the National Marine Fisheries has refused to recognize Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook as a separate species. This has resulted in the Springers being disqualified from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Remarkably, No fishing or environmental group has challenged the NMFS decision denying protection for Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook!
  • While paying lip service to the need to manage Klamath-Trinity Springers, the PFMC has failed to produce a Spring Chinook Management Plan. The practical result is that the California DFG retains sole discretion over how many wild Springers will be taken by sport fishermen in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and also that Springers will continue to be targeted in ocean sport and commercial fisheries. Remarkably, No fishing or environmental group has challenged the PFMC's failure to produce a Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook Management Plan!
  • Bowing to pressure from a handful of guides and sport fishermen, the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Fish and Game Commission have steadfastly refused to protect wild Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook from being taken by sports anglers. Fishing for wild Springers continues to be allowed in the Klamath mainstem including the mouth of Blue Creek and other cold water refugia where wild Springers tend to congregate. Take of wild Springers is also allowed in the Main Stem Trinity between the South Fork and Canyon Creek even though the wild Springer runs in the New River, North Fork Trinity and Canyon Creeks teeter on the brink of extinction. Remarkably, No fishing or environmental group has challenged the DFG's refusal to protect wild Springers from take by sport anglers!

Why have the fishing and environmental groups who claim to champion Klamath-Trinity River salmon not challenged these decisions? Readers may want to inquire of the groups which are member of the Klamath Basin Coalition. According to its web site ( the Klamath Basin Coalition is "dedicated to conserving and restoring the biological resources of the West's once-great Klamath Basin". Members of the Coalition are:

  • 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
Some of these groups do not work on salmon issues. But many of them do. Why then have none of the groups - or the Coalition as a whole - challenged decisions by NMFS, PFMC and the CDFG which continue to threaten Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook with extinction? It is a good question and one whose answer can provide insight into the hidden underbelly of salmon politics. KlamBlog may explore this "hidden underbelly" in a future post. But today our focus is the upcoming PFMC-NMFS decision on the 2008 Pacific Salmon Fishing Season and the April 1st hearing on that decision in Eureka.

While state and federal failure to protect and restore salmon habitat and the fate of Klamath-Trinity Springers may come up on Tuesday evening in Eureka, the main focus of the April 1 PFMC meeting will be the three options the Council is considering for management of Fall Chinook coast-wide. Two of the options involve a complete closure of ocean salmon fishing. The options are described and analyzed in the second of two PFMC "Preseason Reports". You can read that report or download it at:

The first preseason PFMC report provides background for the options and decisions including the 2007 salmon run information presented above. You can read or download that report at:

PFMC will make a final decision on their recommendation for the 2008 Fall Chinook season at their April 8th meeting in Seattle. This recommendation will then go to the National Marine Fisheries Service which technically makes the final decision. NMFS typically adopts the PFMC's recommendation.

The PFMC is accepting written comments on the three options until 4:30 PM Pacific Time on April 1st. Here's the contact information:

Pacific Fishery Management Council
7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101
Portland, OR 97220-1384
Main Number: (503) 820-2280; Toll Free: 1-866-806-7204(503)
Fax: (503) 820-2299
Web site:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Federal Officials, the Bush Administration and the proposed Klamath Water Deal – Who is telling the truth?

US Fish and Wildlife Service manager Phil Detrich has been spending a lot of time on the road lately. Detrich, a career federal employee, supervises the Yreka California office of the US FWS; he is listed on that office’s web site as both “Field Supervisor” and “Klamath Issues Coordinator”. Detrich is also credited (or reviled depending on who you talk to) as one of the main architects of the controversial Headwater's Deal which protected ancient redwoods while providing millions of taxpayer dollars and an ESA "take permit" to Pacific Lumber and its parent company, Charles Horwitz's Maxam Corporation.

According to an article in the March 26th edition of the Mt. Shasta Herald, Detrich has already made 10 major presentations on the controversial 550 plus page proposal which was developed for over 2 years behind closed doors and only released to the public in January. According to the Herald, about 30 people listened to Detrich “extol the plan’s virtues” in Dunsmuir.

Detrich and other federal officials deny that the Bush Administration orchestrated efforts to tie the controversial proposal to negotiations over the fate of 6 dams owned and operated by PacifiCorp as part of its Klamath Hydroelectric Project. In fact, word from inside the still-secret meetings of the Klamath Settlement Group is that the feds are now saying that they will not actually sign the Agreement. This is in spite of the fact that lobbyists for the Yurok Tribe and Klamath Water Users Association already told members of Congress that the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are among the “24 groups” they claim have “signed on” and fully support what Hoopa Tribe Chairman Lyle Marshall has called “an Old West Water Deal”. Phil Detrich's boss, career bureaucrat Steve Thompson, chaired negotiations of the self-styled “Klamath Settlement Group” for most of the 2 plus years the group – made up mostly of federal, state and tribal bureaucrats - met behind closed doors.

But, if those who implement the Bush Administration’s Klamath River Basin policies are simply fair and disinterested parties why is Detrich spending so much time making presentations clearly aimed at building support for the Deal? If the feds were indeed neutral wouldn’t they be providing a more balanced view or simply staying home and managing the offices they supervise?

So what has been the role of the Bush Administration and the federal career bureaucrats who implement the Administration’s Klamath policies?

Those who run public relations for the Karuk and Yurok Tribes and the Klamath Water Users Association (the group which represents the powerful irrigation interests who would benefit most from the proposed Deal) have repeatedly claimed that the Klamath Settlement Group switched negotiations from the dam issue to what has become a controversial and expensive Water Deal because irrigation and tribal leaders realized that they needed to reach an accommodation and bring peace to the river basin.

But other Klamath insiders insist that the Bush Administration orchestrated what has become a strong political alliance when they told tribal leaders that, if they wanted federal government support for dam removal and funding for their fisheries and other programs, they would have to “take care of” the irrigators who receive water through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project.

We may never know who is telling the truth in this regard. One thing is crystal clear, however. The proposed Klamath Water Deal definitely takes care of that one group of irrigation interests. Those interests – which operate about 40% of total Klamath River Basin irrigation including water delivery to a golf resort and several timber products companies – will receive a guaranteed water allocation if the Deal becomes law as well as $204,000,000 in direct subsidies and an estimated $30,000,000 in indirect subsidies financed by federal and state taxpayers.[1]

Favoritism for the so-called “federal irrigators” has not escaped the attention of other Klamath River Basin irrigators, including those in the Shasta and Scott Sub-basins and above Upper Klamath Lake. Many of these irrigators oppose the proposed Water Deal in part because they recognize that taxpayer subsidies will give the “federal irrigators” a distinct competitive advantage over them.

Meanwhile KlamBlog expects Phil Detrich to continue to make presentations promoting the Water Deal while he and other federal officials continue to deny that they have orchestrated it.

Detrich’s Dunsmuir presentation was sponsored by the Upper Sacramento River Exchange which, according to its website, “promotes healthy watersheds in Siskiyou County through stewardship, restoration, education, and community involvement.” Opponents of the proposed Klamath Water Deal have requested that the River Exchange also sponsor a presentation by one of the organizations which do not believe the proposed Deal is in the interest of salmon, a healthy Klamath River and “healthy watersheds”.

How should community-based organizations respond when Mr. Detrich – or other Water Deal promoters - contacts them about sponsoring a presentation? The fair response would be to insist that Detrich and other promoters agree to present along side one or more of those entities which do not believe the proposed Deal would be in the interest of the Klamath River and its communities. That’s the way we should operate in a democracy.

[1] The figures are derived from “Cost Estimates for Settlement Measures and Commitments” in Appendix B2 of the proposed Water Deal (

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Proposed Klamath Agreement would result in “take” of Bald eagles!

One aspect of the proposed Klamath Agreement which has received almost no attention is proposed California legislation which would grant the California Department of Fish & Game authority to allow “take” - within the California portions of the Klamath and Lost River Basins - of species which are “fully protected” pursuant to the California Endangered Species Act. The species which would be affected include the Bald eagle, Golden eagle, Bull trout, Lost River sucker and Shortnosed sucker. As written, this provision would apply not only to the Upper Basin but also to the Shasta and Scott and right down to the mouth of the Klamath.

Aside from the precedent this would set – weakening the California ESA on behalf of a water deal – it has not been clear why such an exemption would be needed to implement the proposed Klamath Agreement. Now – as a result of briefing materials on the Agreement’s impacts on Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges provided by Water Watch of Oregon - one reason has become clear.

Let's focus on just one species - the iconic Bald eagle.

Because in drought years it will not supply enough water to support the waterfowl base on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge needed by the approximately 1,000 Bald eagles which winter in the Basin, it is likely that Bald eagles will be "taken" if the proposed Agreement becomes law. Here’s how it works:

A previous biological opinion which “covered” Bald eagles in the Upper Basin found that Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge needs 32,000 acre feet of water in order to support the waterfowl on which the approximately 1,000 Bald eagles which winter in the Basin depend for food. In winter you can see these Bald eagles on the refuge; they primarily eat frozen ducks and geese. But under the proposed Agreement the Lower Klamath Refuge would receive only 24,000 acre feet of water during drought years and possibly even less. This will require refuge managers to dewater portions of the Refuge. As a result there will be fewer waterfowl for Bald eagles. Some will starve as a result or become so weak they will succumb to disease or other stressors.

It is ironic that tribes which use Bald eagle feathers in their traditional dances and ceremonies would agree to allow these birds to be taken by starvation. It also makes one wonder whether - if they knew about this impact - the traditional and ceremonial leaders of these tribes would allow the political leaders to support an Agreement which provides for starving Bald eagles.

The 1,000 or so Bald eagles which winter in the Klamath Basin is the largest concentration of wintering Bald eagles in the “Lower 48”. Many of the eagles roost on Bear Valley Refuge, near Lower Klamath Refuge, presumably so they can easily access the waterfowl on Lower Klamath on which their survival depends.

There are many contradictions in the proposed Klamath Water Deal; this may be one of the most bizarre.

You can read Water Watch of Oregon’s analysis of impacts the proposed Klamath Agreement would have on the world class Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges at:

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Klamath Settlement Drama gets weird!

There are some strange things happening these days in and around Klamath River Basin Settlement negotiations and the Water and Subsidies Deal which those negotiations have spawned.

It started with release of the proposed Deal. The release quoted Glen Spain who represents salmon fishermen as supporting the Deal. But Spain's organization, in fact, had not supported it and has now written formally that a whole list of changes in the Agreement are needed before they - the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations - could accept and support it.

And then there is the question of what is actually in the Deal. Almost as soon as it was released, the public was told that, in fact, the Deal that was released is not final and that key provisions - including the critical issue of how the Basin's water and restoration would be managed - were still to be written.

Draft federal and state legislation was released with the Deal; but then these parts too were quickly pulled back for "redrafting".

Now we've learned that as soon as the (incomplete) Deal was publicly released, officials of the Upper Basin Irrigation Elite - that small group of irrigators, timber companies and a golf resort which receive water from the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project - along with officials of the Klamath Tribes and consultants working for the Yurok Tribe flew back to DC to brief Congress on the Deal. That in itself would not be too strange since Congress will have to devote close to a billion dollars in taxpayer funds most of it as subsidies to certain tribes and the Irrigation Elite in order for the deal to fly.

But now video and audio recordings of that Capital Hill briefing have come to light. They show former California Resources Secretary and Washington DC lobbyist Doug Wheeler - who now is in the pay of the Yurok Tribe - claiming that 24 organizations, constituting "virtually everyone" and including the "environmental community" was 100% behind the deal and that they had "signed" it!

Wheeler was followed by Troy Fletcher (also a consultant under contract to the Yurok Tribe) who was asked which local environmental groups support the Deal. He answered that the Klamath Forest Alliance and Northcoast Environmental Center were supporters. But in fact neither of these organizations had endorsed the plan; both organizations say significant changes must be made before they can support it and the NEC has since come out in public opposition to the Deal as it is currently written.

You can view the video or listen to the audio of the Wheeler/Tucker Congressional briefing at:

And there is more weirdness still!

Last night a news report on the Klamath was aired on NPR's flagship news program All Things Considered. The story was by a Bay Area and KQED reporter David Gorn and it parroted almost word for word the propaganda we have been hearing for the last two years from Craig Tucker and the Karuk Tribe, i.e. that everyone in the Basin is in agreement and only PacifiCorp is preventing us from entering a new era of harmony and cooperation. I for one am questioning how such a blatantly inaccurate and interest serving piece of propaganda made its way onto a respected news show! Is Gorn also on the Yurok payroll or is he just very gullible and too lazy to fact check? As far as I can tell, Mr. Gorn has never before reported on Klamath issues.

You can hear that "report" at: javascript:NPR.Player.openPlayer(87928806, 87928776, null, NPR.Player.Action.PLAY_NOW, NPR.Player.Type.STORY, '')

KlamBlog wants to know why Mr. Tucker, Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Wheeler feel that it is necessary to misrepresent support for the Water Deal they are promoting. Are they really that desperate or do they simply think that the People of the Klamath Basin are too stupid to see through their shenanigans and too powerless to counter them? Are they really so arrogant and so out of touch that they believe they can get alway with this?

Well the People of the Klamath River Basin have been underestimated before and KlamBlog is betting that will prove to be the case yet again. In fact ever since the trio of Tucker, Wheeler and Fletcher have taken control of the issue for the Yurok and Karuk Tribes those tribes have been steadily loosing credibility because of the constant flood of misrepresentations, half truths and inaccuracies that have issued from the mouths and the computers of these gentlemen. Honesty and straight talk used to be a hallmark of those fighting for the salmon on the Klamath River but that integrity has been long since abandoned!

There is an old saying that goes "honesty is the best policy" and that implies that dishonesty will always have its come-upance. That old wisdom will once again prove true on the Klamath. In fact the Fletcher-Wheeler-Tucker house of cards appears to already be falling.

According to an Associated Press article published yesterday, it is likely that the Deal has run afoul of an Oregon law that prohibits state officials from negotiating water rights behind closed doors. Since that is exactly what has happened in the "confidential" Klamath Negotiations - and since water rights are really at the center of the Deal - it appears that the entire effort to link dam removal to a water deal which would never stand on its own is faltering. As a result this foul and disgraceful episode in the history of the Klamath River Basin may be behind us sooner than KlamBlog imagined.

When that happens the honest people of the Basin will pick up the pieces and build something with integrity - something that will last!

You can read the latest article at: or on the Klamath Basin Crisis website at: