Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shasta Scott "License to Kill Salmon" Challenged

Below (after the photo) you will find a Press Release from 8 organizations which filed a challenge today to the California Department of Fish and Game's attempt to allow farmers and ranchers in the Shasta and Scott River Valleys to "take" Coho salmon in their agricultural operations.

The "Watershed-wide" permits CDFG is attempting to give farmers and ranchers in these Klamath River tributaries attempt to put rancher-dominated Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) in charge of enforcing state law pertaining to dams and stream diversions. Farmers in the Scott River Valley have been denying Department of Fish & Game personnel access to the Scott River for many years now. CDFG has obeyed the rancher-farmer prohibition even though state law guarantees access to the navigable Scott River not only to CDFG employees but also to all citizens. Officials and ordinary citizens can float these rivers (when there is any water in them) but they can also walk, fish and recreate anywhere within the mean high water mark.

The right of citizens to use navigable rivers for travel, fishing and recreation is specifically guaranteed in the Act of Congress which admitted the new State of California into the United States. But like many laws of the land, the navigability law is not in effect in the Scott and Shasta Valleys.

The agricultural operations which the Department of Fish & Game seeks to permit include dewatering these rivers through a doubling of agricultural water use since 1960. Numerous salmon and steelhead - including Coho Salmon which are listed as "threatened" under state and federal endangered species laws - die each year when farmers and ranchers turn on stream diversions in the spring dewatering river sections below the dams and diversions. State law is supposed to keep that from happening but that law - Fish & Game Code 5937 - has not been enforced in the Scott and Shasta Valleys.

The Shasta and Scott Rivers are major Klamath River tributaries. The National Academy of Sciences has identified the Shasta and Scott River Basins as the places where Coho Salmon must be restored in order to prevent extinction of Klamath River Coho. Currently, wild Coho in the Klamath-Trinity system are at high risk of extinction with only one year in every three producing a spawning population large enough to maintain genetic diversity - one of the keys to salmon survival.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed today include environmental and fishing groups and one federally recognized Indian Tribe - The Quartz Valley Indian Reservation (QVIR) - which is located in a portion of the Scott River Valley. The QVIR was illegally terminated in the 1960s via a fraudulent federal election but was reinstated as a federal tribe in 1980 as a result of a lawsuit brought by California Indian Legal Services.

Elders of the QVIR now passed on told of how the land was stolen by whites during the period of termination. When the Tribe was terminated by the federal government, reservation lands became the private property of the individual Indians living on the reservation. Many of the older folks were not literate. When they got sick they were taken to the hospital which at that time was owned by Siskiyou County. They were treated and taken home. Then the bill arrived.

Many of these elders could not read the hospital bills; they were not part of the cash economy and had no idea they were at risk for non-payment. Siskiyou County , however, foreclosed on the property for non-payment and white ranchers bought the prime agricultural land at auction. Other QVIR Indians lost the land through non-payment of taxes.

This scenario was not unique to the Scott River Valley. Across America the Eisenhower Administration terminated tribes and whites subsequently gained control of the land. Many of the terminations were later overturned in court but the land remained in the hands of whites. That is why the majority of land on most Indian Reservations today is owned by non-Indians.

The Dewatered Scott River near Fort Jones in June of this year
Note full-on sprinkler irrigation in the middle ground left of the photo

Klamath Riverkeeper ~ Earthjustice ~ Environmental Protection Information Center ~ Northcoast Environmental Center ~ Sierra Club ~ Quartz Valley Indian Reservation ~ Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations ~ Institute for Fisheries Resources


October 22, 2009


Erica Terence, Klamath Riverkeeper, 530-627-3311,
Glen Spain, PCFFA, 541-689-2000,
Wendy Park, Earthjustice, 510-550-6725,

Coalition Challenges State’s “Licenses to Kill Salmon” on Key Klamath River Streams. Agency proposal leaves threatened coho with dry riverbeds, impaired water quality

San Francisco, CA – A coalition of tribes, conservationists, and commercial fishing groups filed suit today in San Francisco Superior Court to block a precedent-setting agency proposal to strip endangered species protections from threatened coho salmon in northern California’s Klamath River watershed. The groups, represented by Earthjustice, oppose a plan by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) to issue a blanket permit for agricultural practices that kill salmon or destroy habitat in the Shasta and Scott rivers, two of the Klamath’s key salmon spawning tributaries.

“These proposed permits are essentially licenses to kill salmon,” said Erica Terence of Klamath Riverkeeper, lead plaintiff on the case. “With conditions deteriorating for fish every year on the Scott and Shasta, CDFG should be proposing programs that expand protections for fish, not destroy them as these watershed-wide permits would do.”

This summer, the Scott and Shasta garnered headlines statewide after irrigation withdrawals caused record low flows and dewatered stretches of both rivers as thousands of salmon swam upriver to spawn. While local officials blame lack of rain for this year’s record low flows, peer-reviewed science shows that steadily increasing irrigation withdrawals are largely to blame for no-flow and record low-flow conditions in these rivers.

“This program amounts to a death sentence for salmon in both rivers.” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), representing commercial fishermen devastated by fishing closures. “Instead of enforcing the laws, CDFG’s proposed program turns a blind eye to the practices that have driven Klamath coho to near extinction. CDFG should put an end to these destructive practices, not make them the assumed environmental baseline.”

The Watershed-Wide Incidental Take Permits (ITPs) at issue in this case would provide legal cover for continued de-watering of the Scott and Shasta while allowing illegal dams, water withdrawals, and livestock grazing in stream beds to continue unchecked. ITPs for coho salmon are required under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) because the species is listed as threatened with extinction. Coho populations in the Klamath Basin have declined to roughly 1% to 2% of their historic abundance, with the Scott and Shasta rivers among their most important remaining habitat.

California currently issues individual permits to allow farmers and ranchers to continue lawful use of these rivers while threatened salmon are present, as long as their activities do not jeopardize fish survival and efforts are made to mitigate harm. But in the Scott and Shasta, the agency is planning a blanket waiver for all farming activities – without first determining whether any activities are harmful to salmon or even illegal. The program may be replicated by CDFG in watersheds throughout the state.

Terence suggested the new permits could actually undermine the good work done by Scott and Shasta landowners to restore fish habitat in the rivers, noting that “Fish screens and streambank restoration are good things, but they don’t help much if there’s no water in the river.”

“The agency proposal runs exactly opposite to the intent of the laws protecting our natural resources. Unfortunately, these permits as outlined by CDFG will ensure that conditions for threatened salmon will continue to erode in these key salmon watersheds,” said Wendy Park, attorney with Earthjustice.

The proposals have been in draft since September 2008. Tribes, conservationists, fishing groups, and the general public made frequent and substantive objections to the process, but CDFG failed to make significant changes in its final Environmental Impact Report released early this October. The agency’s action flies in the face of a 2004 National Academy of Sciences report suggesting that curbing agricultural water use and habitat degradation in the Scott and Shasta watersheds are critical for restoring Klamath River coho salmon. Indeed, the Shasta River was once the most productive salmon stream, for its size, in the state of California.

“This plan would also significantly undermine the efforts of the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board, who were tasked with restoration of acceptable water quality in the Scott and Shasta under the federal Clean Water Act,” added Daniel Myers of the Sierra Club.

The suit comes on the heels of renewed concerns of another possible wave of fish kills in the Klamath Basin. Relatively high numbers of fall chinook salmon have returned to the Klamath this fall, even as the Shasta and Scott experience record low flows. Scientists found that low flows sparked the infamous September 2002 Klamath River fish kill that took the lives of some 70,000 returning salmon before they could spawn.

“We all want to encourage local landowner actions that help coho salmon recover in the Scott and Shasta, but this plan fails to deliver meaningful recovery actions for salmon. We cannot allow the state to just write off two of its greatest salmon rivers,” concluded PCFFA’s Glen Spain.

More information, references, photo galleries, and photos for download of the de-watered Scott and Shasta Rivers are available at


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