Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Officials back environmental reform
Commissioners vote to support changes to Endangered Species Act
By JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 4/27/11
Klamath County commissioners voted Tuesday to support local efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act.
The county Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in support of a resolution to reform the act and to “bring true balance in its implementation, so that species protection is achieved without unwarranted economic devastation that so commonly accompanies ESA mitigation plans.”
Commissioner Al Switzer said he does not want to see the ESA abolished, but reformed so it protects the environment while limiting regulations that hinder agriculture and timber production — a large portion of the county’s economy.
“Loggers and farmers are some of the best environmentalists I know,” he said. “They live off the land. They don’t want to ruin it.”
To support the reform efforts, local conservative leaders have enlisted several local organizations including: the Klamath County Republican Central Committee; Citizens Protecting Rural Oregon; the Klamath County Patriots, a Tea Party group; and the Klamath Off-Project Water Users Association.
Tom Mallams, who is involved with each of those groups, spoke about the resolution Tuesday in a weekly county meeting. He said local reform proponents are looking to drum up support for their cause in Jackson, Josephine and Siskiyou counties, in hope of being part of a nationwide reform effort.
“It’s like a tsunami growing from a ripple,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., prepared a video address supporting ESA reform for a Klamath County Republican Central Committee meeting earlier this month. Walden helped create legislation in 2005 to reform the act that passed the House but died in the Senate.
“We are, after all, one bad water year away from another crisis in the Klamath Basin,” Walden said in the video, referring to the 2001 drought that led to the shutoff of irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake to protected endangered sucker in the lake.
Sucker is just one species listed in the ESA that locals looking to reform the act protest. Protection of the northern spotted owl, which led to a vast decline in Oregon timber production in the 1990s, and the protection of certain salmon species in the Klamath and other Pacific rivers have been a point of contention for loggers and irrigators.
“We are an ag- and timber-based economy, and it has devastated that economy,” Mallams said about the ESA.
It’s a priority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the ESA, to make the implementation of the act less complex and less contentious, said Scott Flaherty, a spokesman with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest region, which includes Klamath Falls. The ESA, he said, provides a safety net to protect fish, birds and other wildlife.
“These resources belong to all of us and they deserve to be passed on to the next generation,” he said.
Page Updated: Thursday April 28, 2011 02:48 AM Pacific
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