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Saving the sucker

Sucker holds significance for tribes
KBC COMMENT: According to Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement advocates, power ratepayers and taxpayers must pay millions/billions$ to decimate four Klamath River dams because salmon must come into the Klamath Basin and beyond because they supposedly provided food for the Indians. In this article, tribal biologist said the indians staple was suckers; they would have starved without suckers. What was it, suckers or salmon?

By Jill Aho, Herald and News 9/13/09

The Klamath Tribes are actively monitoring water quality and nutrient loading in Upper Klamath Lake as part of research and recovery efforts for endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers, said Larry Dunsmoor, a research biologist with the Tribes.

Once an abundant food supply for Native Americans in the region, sucker (called c’wam by the Tribes) numbers have steadily declined in the past 20 years.

“The Klamath people might not be here today if not for the c’wam,” Dunsmoor said. “C’wam were a reliable food source that ran up the rivers in spring in large numbers and were fairly easy to catch. Coming out of hard winters, the c’wam runs probably saved many tribal folks from starvation.”

The suckers have cultural significance for tribal members, but also are unique to the area, and can be found nowhere else in the world, Dunsmoor said. He believes their recovery should matter to everyone.

“The declines in these fish have been caused by how people have managed the land and water, and everyone should care that harm to the rivers and lakes and fish has resulted, especially because it does not have to be that way,” he added. “Such problems bring regulatory action under laws like the Endangered Species Act that perpetuate adversarial relationships among groups of people, and at times bring harm to people.”

Dunsmoor said the controversial Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a document intended to settle water disputes among water users in the Klamath River watershed, is a way to positively impact those adversarial relationships. He called the idea that the dispute is a fish versus farmer argument is a misconception.

“The KBRA represents the biggest sucker recovery effort that is likely to happen, and yet it also charts a clear course for viability of agriculture,” he said. “Should those fighting against the KBRA succeed in killing it, they guarantee the perpetuation of regulation-based, adversarial approaches to sucker management (and to other issues) that will be certain to harm agriculture.”

But Tom Mallams, an off-Project irrigator who leads a group opposed to the restoration agreement, said the Tribes’ concern for the sucker’s survival is a recent development.

“That fish will survive no matter what we do. You cannot kill that fish. You literally cannot destroy the sucker fish,” he said.

“The sucker was only used in their diet when there was nothing else to eat. There were times when they ate a lot of sucker fish, yes, but it wasn’t a staple item like they claim it was in the past,” he said. “Traditionally, it was not something that was sought after.”

Tribal officials have denied those claims.

Mallams also said that off-Project irrigators have been left out of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement negotiations.

Mallams pointed to work landowners have done to improve water quality above Upper Klamath Lake.

“It’s not that we don’t want the sucker fish to survive,” he said. “We have been leaders in restoration work. These things have been going on for decades.”

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