Saturday, September 26, 2009

The California Department of Fish and Game: Is it corrupt or just clueless?

One day this week KlamBlog experienced an interesting coincidence. On the same day we received word from a whistleblower that 1500 Fall Chinook salmon are stranded in the lower Shasta River Canyon as a result of low flows, we also received FedEx delivery of the California Department of Fish and Game’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed “Shasta River Watershed-wide Permitting Program.” The adult Chinook are stranded in hot water which may kill them - or kill the eggs inside females - before they can reach spawning ground; the permitting program is designed to render the irrigation and other agricultural practices which stranded the fish in hot water legal under state law.

As of this report six dead adult Chinook have been recovered at the CDFG fish counting weir on the lower Shasta River. The photo below is of one of these fish – a female loaded with eggs. It is expected that many more dead adult Chinook are present in the lower Shasta but are not visible due to water so packed with algae and suspended cattle manure that visibility is severely limited.

Dead Shasta River Chinook Salmon full of unspawned eggs
Photo by Malena Marvin courtesy of Klamath Riverkeeper

If it survives the legal challenges which are planned by fishermen, environmentalists and (possibly) tribes, CDFG’s Watershed-wide Permit will render the Shasta Valley agricultural operations of those who sign up for the permits legal under provisions of the California Endangered Species Act as well as other Fish & Game Codes designed to protect fish. The practices CDFG wants to permit under this program are also responsible for the demise of countless young Chinook and Coho salmon which die each year in the Shasta River while they are trying to migrate to the sea.

Furthermore, in the FedEx package from CDFG we received the Final EIS for a nearly identical program for agricultural interests in the nearby Scott River Basin. The Shasta and Scott together once produced among the largest numbers of wild Chinook and Coho salmon coming from tributaries to the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and they remain essential habitat areas which must produce healthy and abundant salmon if wild Coho and Chinook are to ever recover in the Klamath River Basin.

The demise of Shasta River Coho and Chinook salmon is due primarily to the dewatering of the Shasta River and key tributaries in order to maximize delivery of irrigation water to Shasta Valley farms and ranches. This is not something that happened long ago but rather a saga which continues today. Here’s a short chronology of the demise of salmon in the Shasta. Most of the data presented below is from Life History, Status, and Distribution of Klamath River Chinook Salmon by Jafet Andersson and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Chinook Salmon Status Review. The rest is from whistleblowers:

  • For the most part, the Shasta River escaped the impact which the Gold Rush of the 1850s and 60s visited on salmon in other nearby rivers – the Scott, Salmon, Trinity and Upper Sacramento. That is because the Shasta River Basin is primarily volcanic and no gold can be found in volcanic rocks and soil. In other nearby basins miners dammed, diverted and silted rivers and streamed with abandon. Some of the salmon runs on which local Indigenous folk depended were decimated but others were not affected. While mining impacts continued for some time, when the big rush ended salmon stocks began to recover.

  • As late as the 1920s government fisheries folks were reporting large numbers of Spring and Fall Chinook adults spawning in the Shasta River. It is estimated that 5,000 Spring Chinook and up to100,000 Fall Chinook spawned in the Shasta River before large scale irrigation development – including the construction of Dwinnell Dam and Reservoir (aka Lake Shastina) in 1926 to capture and divert water to farms and ranches.

Dwinnell Reservoir in Summer (note toxic algae scum)

  • By 1930 Spring Chinook were extirpated from the Shasta River Basin. Dwinnell Dam and Reservoir had cut off access to the deep, cold pools in the upper Shasta River and upper Parks Creek. Springers depended on these deep, cold pools high in the watershed in order to survive through the hot summer in order to spawn in the fall.

  • Between 1930 and 1950 the number of adult Fall Chinook salmon spawning in the Shasta River declined from over 80,000 to less than 1,000 fish.

  • Between 1950 and 2003 the number of Shasta River spawners was up and down but the overall trend was down. Estimates of the decline range from 2.5% to 5%. The expenditure of an estimated $30 million of taxpayer funds on “habitat restoration” in the Shasta River Basin during this period failed to stem the decline of Shasta River Fall Chinook.

  • Sometime in the late 1980s, the Grenada Irrigation District drilled wells to tap the underground river which emerges at Big Springs in the middle of the Shasta River Valley. The flow from Big Springs has diminished from 100-120 cubic feet per second prior to the well drilling to 20-40 cubic feet per second now. Most of the residual flow is diverted by other irrigators downstream. Flows in the Shasta have declined dramatically as a result. The North Coast Water Quality Board has determined that increasing the flow from Big Springs by 45 cubic feet per second would reduce water temperature at the mouth of the Shasta River by 2 degrees Celsius. Those 2 degrees can make the difference between death and survival for salmon eggs inside adult females and for vulnerable young salmon migrating to the sea.

Aerial view of Big Springs
The black dots in the water and on land are cattle
  • This year USGS recorded flows in the Shasta River during August and September have been among the lowest flows ever recorded. Flow records go back to 1933.

The California Department of Fish and Game is responsible for protecting Public Trust Resources – including salmon – for the benefit of all Californians. For CDFG chief Don Koch (pronounced “Cook”) it is his sworn duty to protect the salmon for his employer – current and future California citizens. Yet, as outlined in the history above, Koch and those under him have been complicit in the demise of Shasta River salmon.

Now Kock and CDFG want to legalize the destruction by offering permits which will allow the continued dewatering of the Shasta River. If this is allowed to go forward KlamBlog believes we can kiss Shasta River Chinook goodbye. That is one of several reasons EPIC – the Environmental Protection and Information Center - opposed confirmation of Koch as CDFG’s chief executive even as the big environmental and fishing groups were falling over each other to praise him. Before Governator Schwarzenegger appointed him to the top post at CDFG, Koch headed the agency’s Northern District. In that role he has been the official most responsible for the decline and current state of Shasta River Chinook and all Klamath River Salmon.

Is the desire of Donald Koch and the Schwarzenegger Administration to legalize the dewatering of the Shasta and Scott River and the extirpation of salmon from these watersheds corruption? Most readers would probably say “No” – that corruption involves taking bribes and acting illegally.

But the primary definition of corruption in the Merriam Webster dictionary is: impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle. Is it moral and a sign of integrity and virtue when the state official with the most responsibility for assuring that salmon survive and recover not only abrogates that responsibility but also takes action to render the destruction of our salmon legal under state law?

It has been said that “Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” Don Koch should not be the power in the California Department of Fish and Game. Instead he should be denied confirmation by the California Senate and drummed out of CDFG. This is a necessary step to restore the integrity and reputation of the California Department of Fish and Game

As far as we can tell the Senate has not yet confirmed Koch. You can weigh in with the Senate Rules Committee concerning whether or not he should be confirmed as director of CDFG. Send your comments to:

The Honorable Darrell Steinberg, Chair
Senate Rules Committee
State Capitol, Room 420
Sacramento, CA 95814
Attention: Nettie Sabelhaus, Appointments Director

Or you can send an on-line message to Rules Committee Chair Darrell Steinburg via this link.

CDFG’s corrupt and misguided Watershed-wide Permitting Programs for the Shasta and Scott Rivers will go down in flames – or in a flurry of court orders. But that will not be enough. We need a Fish and Game Department which faithfully discharges its duty to uphold the laws which have been enacted to protect and preserve Public Trust resources. We don’t have such an agency today. Getting rid of Koch is a necessary first step but that alone will not end the official corruption. What Californians need and should demand is a Department of Fish and Game with the guts and integrity to fulfill its duties to fish, wildlife and the people of California.

1 comment:

Term papers said...

Something New to read That The photo below is of one of these fish. a female loaded with eggs. It is expected that many more dead adult Chinook are present in the lower Shasta but are not visible due to water so packed with algae and suspended cattle manure that visibility is severely limited.