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Times-Standard Online - Local News
Talks collapse on fish kill suit
By John Driscoll The Times-Standard  6/13/04

Talks to settle a lawsuit pressed by the Yurok Tribe against the federal government over the 2002 Klamath River fish kill have broken down.

The Yurok Tribe has walked away from discussions with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation after the court-ordered mediation met an impasse this week.

The tribe, along with the Hoopa Valley Tribe, is suing Reclamation for damages after 34,000 chinook salmon and other fish died in a hot, shallow river that fall.

The Yuroks backed away from the discussions after Reclamation cut flows to the river when the National Resource Conservation Service predicted less water would flow into the river from snowpack than expected.

The flows planned for the fall are as low as those during the year the fish died, although a federal water bank and a small amount of additional water are providing supplemental flows, mainly this spring.

"What we had to do is assess whether the Bureau of Reclamation is genuinely interested in protecting our rights," said Yurok Tribe Executive Director Troy Fletcher. "It's clear to us that they're not."

The lawsuit is part of another being pressed by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and other environmental groups. In July, a federal judge in Oakland found Reclamation's 10-year plan for the river didn't follow the law. Judge Saundra Armstrong also ruled that the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes had a legitimate grievance against the government for potential breach of tribal trust responsibilities.

A trial is likely to begin in September, now that negotiations have failed.

Both sides claim they are still willing to talk, however.

Dave Sabo in Reclamation's Klamath Falls, Ore., office said he understands that the Yurok Tribe is frustrated with Klamath Irrigation Project operations. The project supplies water to about 200,000 acres on the central Oregon-California border.

But he said Reclamation has taken steps, with the water bank and other additional flows, to meet provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the tribal trust.

"It's really up to the Yurok what they want to do," he said.

Fletcher said the tribe now is worried the river flows could again set up the lethal conditions on the lower river this fall, jeopardizing another run of chinook.


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