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An endangered act

by Oregon State University Daily Barometer  1/21/05

followed by KBC commentary

In the summer of 2001, the federal government cut off the irrigation water supply to farmers in the Klamath Valley. Water in the Klamath Basin was in short supply, and the Endangered Species Act decreed that coho salmon in the river, classified as "threatened," needed the water.

According to a study conducted for the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont., Klamath farmers lost up to $54 million due to restrictions enforced by the Endangered Species Act.

This act has many opponents, and the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition, with 150 member organizations, has been established to push legislation to change it.

The group contends that once listed, species are never unlisted ---- thus, the act is unsuccessful. They call for "better" science to make species assessments and recommendations.

They also call for incentives and compensation to property owners that have been affected by the act.

Proponents of the Endangered Species Act point out that it is, by its very nature, a last-ditch effort. According to NOAA, the act is designed to save species and their habitats when other efforts have failed. Therefore, it is not surprising that listed species have a long recovery process and thus stay listed for long periods.

And the act has had some successes ---- populations of grizzly bear, the American alligator and brown pelican, among others, are all recovering.

As for calling stock assessments into question, the real problem is not "bad science," but a lack of funding for scientific research. Instead of using federal dollars to compensate property owners, more support should be given to research and conservation efforts.

In the background of the Endangered Species Act, controversy is a moral argument -- one of short-term-versus-long-term benefits. In the short term, it may seem more important to protect one's individual assets at the expense of a threatened species. But in the long term, isn't the preservation of a species worth more?

Many species on the planet are of economic significance in and of themselves. Pacific salmon are a vital part of the economy of the Northwest, and have been for a long time. To not protect Klamath coho is to court a regional economic setback. Species that don't have obvious economic value are hardly insignificant. The environment is a complex web of interactions that researchers are only beginning to understand. Losing a species may have unforeseen consequences.

As wildlife ecologist and conservation writer Aldo Leopold said, "The first law of intelligent tinkering is to save all of the pieces." We are "tinkering" with our environment in unpredictable ways. We need to look past our own life-spans and short-term desires and preserve the Endangered Species Act to protect all of the diverse, integral components of our planet.

Editorials serve as a platform for Barometer editors to offer commentary and opinions on current events, both national and local, grand in scale and diminutive. Opinions here are a reflection of the Editorial Board's majority.

KBC Commentary to the editors of
Oregon State University Barometer:

Coming from a University, your article is very disappointing.

First, you say that water in 2001 was in short supply. Compared to what? If you saw Klamath Lake flooding into the picnic areas, you may have had a different  perspective. If you were on the banks of the Klamath River, they had never seen the river so high. If you mean it was in short supply compared to the biological opinion, which Dr. Hardy was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Justice to shut down the Klamath Project, then you are correct. If you mean it was in short supply compared to the Hardy Report which took the highest water level in recorded history and made that level mandatory for the Klamath Project, you are correct.  If you mean it was in short supply because it could not attain an artificially elevated level, higher than possible to attain before the Klamath Project was built, then yes, you are correct.

Local assessors, those working with the Klamath Basin farmers, estimate the 2001 farm loss at approximately $200 million. Perhaps Montana feels they know better than those who lost their crops, and many who lost their farms.

Less than 1% of endangered species have recovered, and many of those had nothing to do with the Endangered Species Regulations. Were you at the Klamath Falls July 17 Congressional Hearing? Did you listen to the speakers? Of those represented, coastal fishermen, Yurok and Klamath Tribes, Bureau of Reclamation, NOAA Fisheries, US Fish and Wildlife, a Hispanic immigrant farmer who lost his own farm that he worked to attain, a Fisheries Scientist who worked for Fish and Wildlife Service for 12 years, in addition to California and Oregon Farm Bureaus, an attorney, a retired World War II homesteader, every single speaker agreed that the Endangered Species Act is not working. It is not recovering species. It is decimating communities, economies, land, and hundreds of other species while trying to protect one and failing.  Every tribe and community represented believed that peer-review is essential. Peer-review was not allowed by the BIA and DOJ who hired Dr Hardy to create 'science' to shut down our farms and our refuges. The National Research Council was finally, later, asked to peer-review these decisions; they said the water shut-off was unjustified. The devastation to the people, the aquifer, and the remaining 489 species of wildlife in the Klamath Basin was unjustified. Every recent lawsuit outcome has said it was unjustified. I don't think you were here.

You choose to spin this, "individual assets at the expense of a species". What species are you referring to? When the Fish and Wildlife service in the 80's counted the suckers they found around 12,000 and decided they did not need to be listed.  A few years later they went ahead and listed them. According to this fisheries scientist, today they know that there are tens of thousands of these suckers...they did not count them right previously, but they will not de-list them.  The Chiloquin Dam blocks 95% of the sucker habitat but they will not remove the dam.  They will not count the suckers...they will not fund counting them. Did you know that? I don't think you could have been referring to the sucker fish.  Perhaps you meant the 'threatened' coho. Have you read all of the latest reports? They illegally listed the coho. They are not threatened or endangered. But they will not de-list them.  There have been recent record-high runs of coho. Which species do you mean you are 'losing'? Was it one of those two that you feel justified in shutting down 1400 family farms, and depriving water to 489 other species, to give these tens of  thousands of suckers and coho an artificially elevated amount of water?

Did you see what this did to our 489 other species of wildlife that were deprived water? Did you see the dead baby ducks in the dry ditches? Did you see the cracked parched refuges where the most important migratory bird resting area in the Pacific Flyway is located? It is two miles from our farm. Did you know that our farms provide over 50% of the feed for these waterfowl? They require 70 million tons of food per year from the Klamath Basin, half from our farms. Did you know that our irrigation project is the most efficient in the United States? Yes. Because our ground water level is so high, when we irrigate our fields, that water returns to the ground water and goes to the refuges. So when farms get no water, it takes water from our refuges. And none, not one bird or animal in our refuges has ever ever been found sick or dead because of pesticides...I but you did not know that either.

And these greedy farmers that you refer to, looking out for their assets, did you know that in 2001 and in later years, it was these farmers that pumped their ground water into the refuges to save the wildlife? Yes, without them, with the government water cut-off, there would have been no water in some of these refuges.  These were the same farmers who watched crops wither and die.

At this summer's Congressional Hearing, Steve Williams, Regional Director of Fish and Wildlife, answering a question, said that he did not know if the so-called 'endangered' fish were any better off because of the 2001 water shut off.

We were born and raised caring for this wildlife...we share our soil and water and air and crops with it. And we were raised as children of these veterans who defended our country and Europe in WWII. These people  created our communities; they were given their land and water rights because of their service to you and me...that's why you can write this stuff, even if it is not true...this is America.  You were not here in 2001 to see these old  people, who lived to provide food for you and me, one moment they are honored, and the next they are treated like the scum of the earth, destroyers of the land and wildlife, dishonored. You should have seen the auctions.  Fatal heart attacks.  Depression.  Hispanic farm workers moved away like an exodus with no food or job or money before the school year was over, and many of these people had faithfully lived here for over 20 years. And now the coho are found to be illegally listed, the lake-level/river-flow management is found to be unjustified.  Now many of these elders are broken and many are dead.

We all want to see wildlife...we love wildlife. But to have a broken act that is not recovering species, that is agenda-driven or it would have allowed peer-review, it sounds pretty but it is not working. We want species to recover. But to use flawed, non-peer-reviewed opinions to devastate a community, economy, and 489 other species for 3 species that are not counted and not necessarily endangered with methods proven "unjustified" in recovering the species, we find no logic.






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