Basin landowners bash ONRC plan
Published October 10, 2003
By DYLAN DARLING
The Oregon Natural Resources Council's proposal that
the federal government buy or condemn private land
to make a new reservation for the Klamath Tribes has
added more fuel to what shapes up as a historic
Many landowners above Upper Klamath Lake don't like
the idea of private landowners being bought out or
pushed aside, said Ed Bartel, president of the
Resource Conservancy, a landowner group involved in
the water rights adjudication.
Members of the conservancy, which Bartel said
represents most of Basin irrigators who don't get
water from the Klamath Reclamation Project, are
still trying to digest all of ONRC's proposal, but
they didn't like what they have tasted so far.
"Our members are outraged about it," he said.
And, Bartel said, he and other landowners above
Upper Klamath Lake aren't too excited about the idea
of the government giving the Tribes more than
600,000 acres of national forests for a new
reservation because of the changes it could mean for
the management of the public lands around them.
He said many landowners above the Basin are uneasy
about the possibility of losing their land or their
water rights as a result of a negotiation process
they haven't been privy to.
"With all these proposals, no one seems to be
discussing community," he said.
Jim Root, a cattle rancher in the Wood River Valley
who leads a group that has experimented with leasing
water rights to the government, said he wants to see
details of proposals by the Tribes and ONRC so he
can compare the two.
He said it's too early to judge the ONRC plan, but
so far he doesn't see any advantages.
"The ONRC proposal just strikes me as something
that's not going to bring economical or ecological
gain to Klamath County," he said. "That's the
standard I will judge them on."
Roger Nicholson, a rancher near Fort Klamath and a
member of the conservancy, said the conservancy
represents the people who live in the private land
that was part of the former reservation and the land
that was right next to it.
He said the group has tried to contact Bill
Bettenberg, director of the Interior Department's
office of policy analysis, who has been speaking for
the government in the negotiations, but it didn't
get any response.
"They have not even come close to us," Nicholson
said. "I think we are one of the most affected
groups who haven't been talked to yet," he said.
Informal meetings between the Tribes, the Klamath
Water Users Association and the Klamath Basin
Rangeland Trust have been going on for the last
couple of months. The Tribes and the government have
been meeting for about a year to discuss a deal.
Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water
Users Association, said the ONRC is trying to divide
the groups involved in the water issue with its
"They are very effective at generating turmoil
within rural communities by pitting one interest
group against another..." he said. "Now they are
attempting to divide the Upper Basin community
through a buyout of private lands that would be
returned to the tribes."
He said the ONRC has done nothing but file lawsuits
that clog the progress of negotiating a solution.
"We have pretty much dismissed the ONRC as being
able to help find a solution," Keppen said.
Jim McCarthy, ONRC policy analyst, said the group
knows that some people call it an "evil interloper"
that is anti-farming.
He rebuts those claims.
"Certainly, the ONRC has no interest in
extinguishing agriculture," he said.
He said the group wants to find a way to have
thriving agriculture, fish and forests.
With the announcement of the proposal, the ONRC also
sent letters to U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron
Wyden and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, all from Oregon.
Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff, said Wyden
hadn't had a chance to review the proposal yet
because his office had just received it Thursday
He did say Wyden supports the idea of the Tribes
getting land from the government.
Two years ago Wyden asked the Bush administration to
consider a deal that would involve the exchange of
land for water rights, Kardon said. He said Wyden
still supports the idea.
"Sen. Wyden continues to believe that the Klamath
Tribes should be re-landed and is open to creative
ideas that will help us solve the many challenges
facing agriculture in the Klamath Basin," he said.