Klamath Basin suckers have not made it to adulthood living
in Upper Klamath Lake since the early 1990s.
summit focused on the endangered fish’s survival — organized
by Sen. Jeff Merkley at Oregon Tech on Friday — hopes to
identify ways to change that, with the goal of a
comprehensive plan to save the sucker from extinction.
are about 50,000 Lost River sucker left in Upper Klamath
Lake, a population that Merkley said has decreased by
two-thirds. About 8,000 shortnose sucker are left in the
lake to date, with about an 80 percent decrease during the
last two decades.
that’s a real reflection of a challenge when no young fish
are surviving,” Merkley said.
gathering was triggered by the recognition that the two
significant sucker species that live in the lake are in
deep, deep, deep trouble. What we have heard is that these
fish that once numbered in the millions, now are very few by
that’s a five-alarm fire bell going off for us to come
together and understand the causes and the impacts and start
addressing the fundamental issues that are related to that,”
day-long summit was geared toward studying the best ways to
recover the endangered species with panels on water quality,
disease, as well as the impact of phosphorous from
Federal and state agencies including U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Klamath Tribes,
as well as the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) were
at the table to talk about a species in a class all its own
when it comes to survival.
concept of the summit was conceived about six months ago
during water use talks with Alan Mikkelsen, a senior
Department of Interior official.
fact that none of the juvenile suckers are surviving —
basically zero are surviving — that’s what sets off the
alarm bells,” Merkley said.
Phosphorous and algae only enhance the quandary of saving
the species, too.
Merkley called for examining agricultural practices to try
to remove phosphorous from agricultural lands before it gets
into the Klamath River.
“There’s been work done with the agricultural community to
divert the tail-waters, or that is the agricultural run-off,
to wetlands, which then serve as a natural opportunity to
trap that phosphorous and keep it out of the streams that go
out into the lake,” Merkley said.
Merkley spoke of cooperative efforts by Oregon Department of
Agriculture, non-governmental organizations, and landowners
to implement a series of best management practices on ag
is ongoing work to reduce erosion through the fencing of
cattle so that the cattle are not eroding the streambanks,”
he said. “That type of cooperation is essential for us to go
forward and solve this challenge as a community.”
Merkley also pointed out a concept of removing algae from
the lake, though with no cost-effective strategy known at
this time to do so.
it’s worth exploring, because when you take the algae out,
you take out the phosphorous that is trapped in that algae,
and the algae doesn’t die,” Merkley said. “You both reduce
the toxins, reduce the phosphorous, and reduce the problem.”
Merkley has advocated for a series of agricultural
conservation programs as a member of the Senate
Appropriations Committee, he said, to help individual
ranchers and farmers with conservation practices, that might
affect, for example, phosphorous flows from agricultural
wouldn’t put a price tag on federal funding needing for a
comprehensive plan to save the sucker.
of my goal though wasn’t just to proceed to say, well,
there’s big pots of money,” Merkley said. “Part of my goal
was to say, what is the challenge?”
Predation of the sucker has been thought to be one of many
challenges the species face, though Merkley said it’s much
more complicated than it appears. He still believes it’s
worth continued study, but said so do toxins that come from
blue green algae bloom in the lake.
also emphasized support to increase efforts to enhance the
sucker species through “rearing ponds” such as the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service’s Gone Fishing facility.
goal here is that since we know the older fish are surviving
in the lake, is can we establish rearing ponds to produce a
lot of fish introduced into the lake where they’re able to
tolerate the conditions better and survive, and restore the
fish into the lake in that matter,” Merkley said.
numbers are in for the first cohort of fish from Gone
Fishing, which were radio-tagged to measure their progress
earlier this year.
Juvenile fish not surviving
least 90 percent or more of the cohort perished, according
to Evan Childress, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
learning from that,” Merkley said. “The goal is, to what
size do the fish need to be grown before they’re released in
order to have them be successful in the lake.
is a collective goal established of developing the ability
to release 100,000 suckers a year into the lake, which could
be a very, very significant factor in addressing the
challenge we’re facing right now.”
100,000 number was also used by Mikkelsen, senior adviser to
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on water and western
resources. Mikkelsen helped release a number of sucker into
Shoalwater Bay in March.
Merkley wasn’t specific on details when asked about
Mikkelsen’s attempts at water talks, including whether the
Klamath Tribes should be invited to the discussion table.
just hope the spirit of cooperation that was so present
today by all the stakeholders would be one that will
ultimately the ability to address the enormous water
challenges and of course the water challenges is going to
take a tremendous amount of cooperation,” Merkley said.
he didn’t promise to host annual summits in the future, he
appeared open to the idea of another gathering.
think we have to come together repeatedly and see where our
progress has been, what’s worked,” Merkley said.
Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said he’d like to
see another summit.
definitely think this is a very positive step in the right
direction,” Gentry said, standing next to Scott White,
executive director of the KWUA. “Certainly we’re interested
in harvesting these fish again,” Gentry added.
also expressed a sense of unity at the summit among the
audience from varying backgrounds on the topic of saving the
felt really good to not be focused on politics and it felt
good to not be pressured into having discussions about water
settlement,” Gentry said following a late afternoon press
felt really good to be focused on what I think our members
really want us to be focused on, what is going wrong with
our fish, what are the problems and what are the solutions.
feels like we have a good, positive place to work from,” he
added, “to me, a good foundation to move forward.”
though the focus was what can we do right now in the short
term, there was a look to the long-term solution — the type
of comprehensive approach that was even envisioned in the
past water settlements ... some of our members have really
wondered why the state and federal government and others
haven’t done what they really should be doing, even whether
there’s a settlement or not.
have this responsibility to implement and enforce the Clean
Water Act, they have the responsibility to make sure our
fish don’t go extinct. They have those responsibilities so
to me it was refreshing to not have to try to defend this
position that we’re not ready to talk water settlement.”
called Merkley’s desire to save the sucker species admirable
and he expressed appreciation on behalf of the KWUA.
been in private meetings with you where it was clear that
your desire to recover these species is among your very
highest priorities,” White said, referencing Merkley.
said Merkley understands the strain felt by agricultural
producers and that he sees a commitment by the senator to
work with family farmers and ranchers to ensure that they
are not forgotten.
entire Basin will benefit from the recovery of these
species,” White said. “Our culture, economy, community, and
our future are inter-related, and we are hopeful that
opportunities like the sucker rearing program will arise
that we can participate in and be supportive of.
is our community’s problem and it is going to take our
community to fix it. You have our continued commitment to
work with you and others in our community with this
Merkley said his hope is to develop a foundation on the work
that’s already been done, and then rally together financial
resources together with help from the congressional
delegation, state representatives and the governor.
have an endangered species challenge that’s also tied into
water and so if an appropriate plan can be designed in
partnership with the agricultural community, we may be able
to bring some of those resources,” Merkley said.
issues over water produce enormous tensions, and anxiety,
and stress; decades and centuries of agricultural tradition,
millenium of Native American tradition, and just the
challenge of there’s not enough water for everything.
so, my hope was that the tone today would be one of
partnership and cooperation … I think that the result today
definitely came out on the front end of that. We’re all in
this challenge together and I think that greatly increases
the odds of being able to take on this challenge
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