Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
 

The Honorable Richard Pombo, Chairman
House Resources Committee
1324 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515.

Dear Congressman Pombo,

I serve as a County Supervisor representing the people of the Western portion of Siskiyou County. Many of these people are remnants of families once dependent on traditional forest trades. Employment opportunities have all but been eliminated over the past decade through restrictions imposed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and used in litigation by extreme environmentalists to stop all timber harvest, mining and now fuels reduction work.

When the Northwest Forest Plan was introduced, we were promised a new recreational economy to replace our locally Forest-dependent economies. This has never materialized. The lumber mills in Siskiyou County have all been dismantled. We are now attempting to beg or borrow any resource that will assist in the creation of a new infrastructure, allowing us to utilize the material we are now hoping to receive from our forests - small diameter trees and biomass from fuel reduction projects. This could provide very modest employment for remaining forest families and some level of fire safety for communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface. Yet, there is now litigation from the environmental community against fuel reduction projects citing the Endangered Species and other Acts.

We also see a continuous stream of petitions to list various species, (frogs, lamprey, green sturgeon, pine marten.) From our perspective, the ESA is being used as a hammer to stop any use of natural resources in the area.

Since the Northwest Forest Plan was implemented, Siskiyou County has seen a 17.9% drop in school enrollment. The median age for Siskiyou County residents has climbed to 43.0, as young families leave to find work. More than 27% of Siskiyou County's remaining children now live below the Federal Poverty Level. The median county household income in the year 2000 was $29,530, compared to a $47,493 state average. (Median income for households with a female head was only $16,002.) In 2003, the average unemployment rate in the county was 10.4%. In January through April of this year, unemployment reached 14.5%, 14.1%, 14.3% and 11.3% respectively.

As of 1999, adult admissions to alcohol and drug programs in Siskiyou County were 12.3 per thousand, while the California average is 9.1 per thousand. County DUI arrests were 14.2 per thousand, compared to a State average of 8.7. In 1999-2000, mental health services were provided in the County at a rate of 39.96 per thousand, compared to a rate of 14.36 per thousand statewide. In 2003-2004, reported victims of domestic violence comprised 1.8 percent of the county's population, compared to a State average of about .55 percent.      

As depressing as these statistics are for the entire County, they are far worse in the Forest-dependent communities in my district, which are far removed from the economic stimuli of the I-5 Corridor. (NOTE: Candy Dillingham of the USFS has been working on a social and economic impact post-mortem on the affects of the Northwest Forest Plan which includes communities in my district. I understand that it should be ready for release soon. I encourage the Committee to obtain and distribute a copy to its members.)

As a County Supervisor, I also represent a large agricultural community in the Scott Valley. Many of the families in this farming and ranching region can trace their roots, (as well as their water use rights,) back to the first California pioneers of the 1850s. Their "heritage ranches" and ways of life have been passed from generation to generation, along with a strong conservation ethic. For the past decade and a half, the community has participated in voluntary habitat enhancement projects to help restore anadromous fish runs. By this summer, they will have installed fish screens on all of their irrigation diversions to which listed coho are exposed and will have fenced all but one property on the mainstem Scott River. Many have entered into long-term CRP contracts regarding the management of riparian areas; installed alternative stockwater systems; worked on riparian bank stabilization and planting; recontoured and rocked roads and replaced or removed culverts. 

Siskiyou County is also well on its way in an award winning effort to replace culverts and bridges to reduce erosion and open up access to spawning grounds for anadromous fish. 

Currently, the ESA is threatened to be used as leverage to control water resources through the imposition of minimum instream flows. This would undermine centuries old vested, adjudicated water use rights that have secured the local agricultural economy and social fabric of associated farm communities. Will the same economic and social devastation that has happened to my Forest-dependent communities and the Upper Klamath Basin now fall upon my local agricultural communities as well?

Having worked with ESA over many years, I have the following specific comments and suggestions:

SCIENCE

The "best available science" standard is a very poor one. The standard should be "robust" -supported by a sufficient quantity and quality of information to provide certainty as to species' status. The current standard allowed listings to occur, such as the SONCC coho, where there was inadequate science to determine historic or current populations of runs. To this day, we still have no idea how many coho there were historically or how many there are now. "Recovery" population targets can't even be established. The Recovery Team is now looking at setting recovery on some viability index of "independent breeding populations."

It should be recognized that most of what is touted as science is not. Field studies based on the scientific method of testing a hypothesis is science. Frankly, there is very little of this to support what has been done in the name of ESA. Tomes with analysis citing past papers and manipulating statistics, models with myriad assumptions filling gaps are not science. What passes for science has led to the practice of "hired guns" or "experts" that are used politically, most often in a media or court battle over control of natural resources for economic gain. It is this practice that has divided the Klamath River system into a battle ground of interests. Clauses should be inserted into the ESA to ensure that money is spent on basic "peer reviewed" field research to provide the needed building locks of science. 

TAKE

The definition of prohibited "take" should be clarified to exclude the current Court interpretation which includes "modification of habitat." Habitat is now often privately owned property. Productive use of that property commonly modifies habitat. ESA has become a vehicle for federal land and resource management of private property. This is normally the constitutional jurisdiction of locally elected County government. As a result, federal agencies are pressuring counties to enter into regulatory schemes, such as Habitat Conservation Plans or the "5 County Plan," whereby the county ends up enforcing mitigations for a federal law through local land planning and use ordinances.

In addition, the resource owner appears to have no recourse as to "just compensation" under the Fifth Amendment for the loss of exclusive use and enjoyment of his property. The landowner is treated the same as if he/she were a polluter, expected to shoulder the entire burden of mitigation of presumed impacts on the species without recognition of the public benefit. The Fifth Amendment is supposed to protect individuals from shouldering a burden alone that should be born by society as a whole.

There is no recognition of the proportional contribution of one resource user's impact on the species as a whole in the burden of ESA regulation expected to be borne by the individual. Many of these species have already been extirpated in urban areas, and the regulatory burden falls heaviest on the shoulders of rural communities. The impact on the species of historic methods employed by resource industries, such as hydraulic mining, canneries, heavy clear cutting, are not considered in the regulatory burden expected to be borne by the current resource user. In the case of SONCC coho, more than 40% of the juvenile population may be lost to parasitic infestations each year. A great number are lost to predators. The Southern Decadal Oscillation effects ocean upwelling of food, yet the small family farm irrigator is expected to install a $20,000 fish screen and surrender his right to use water upon which his family depends for a living.    

If the public wants to save endangered species from extinction, (a laudable goal with which I concur,) it should be willing to bear the full costs of doing so.

CLOSING

Immediately prior to the Committee Hearing in Klamath Falls, I met in Somes Bar with a group of resource users, tribal representatives, agency folk and interested people from all over the Klamath River system. All spoke of their love of the land, their treasured life styles and traditions, and the poverty and regulatory impact that had been felt in their various small communities. The current ESA pits us against each other in a win/lose tug of war over resources. Each of us was tired to the bone of fighting. We were all searching for a way to join together in respect, to help all of our communities to thrive and allow our lifestyles and traditions to flourish.

In my opinion, the ESA needs to be reconfigured to place all of us on the same side of the battle and direct all of our efforts and creativity to restoring the species - together. This can only be done through a realistic examination and recognition of trade-offs. We need to make individuals whole when they can no longer fish, log or farm. We need to recognize that when you suddenly cut off water to farmers to reallocate that water to another use, or close the Forest from timber harvest, or the fishery from fishing, that this has serious social and economic impacts to real people, their families and communities.

We need to have help in establishing vibrant new economies to replace those that are lost from resource use reallocation. We need a market-based incentive-driven habitat restoration and conservation program that retains the integrity of the rights of private property and ownership while species are recovering. This could be similar to the CRP rental contract with rates commensurate with the loss of the crop that would have been produced. But we also need help in redeveloping communities that had an infrastructure of skills, businesses and equipment developed to support an industry which no longer exists at a level to support them. We need more local control over our destinies. 

I appreciate your leadership in tackling the controversial, but so very important, issue of ESA revision. I look forward to the day when all of the communities on the Klamath River system and the Coast celebrate the return of hefty fish runs and healthy families to the vibrant Forest and farming communities of the future.

Sincerely,

Marcia H. Armstrong
Supervisor. District 5
Siskiyou County
 
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