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The Pioneer Press, at the very top of the State of California, grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.
Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California July 27, 2005 Vol. 32, No. 40 Page A1, column 5

Karuks lose $1 billion lawsuit

Tribes claim there are no salmon, but real data proves otherwise.

By Liz Bowen, Assistant Editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

KLAMATH BASIN along the California and Oregon borders – Leaders of the Karuk Tribe of California have received another setback in their push for dam removal in the Klamath River.

The Karuks along with the Yurok, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes had sued PacifiCorp for $1 billion. The four tribes alleged damage to their salmon fishing grounds as a result of the handful of dams on the Upper end of the Klamath River. The Klamath Tribe is the only tribe located historically above the dams. The other three tribes are aboriginal to the Lower end of the Klamath, with the Hoopa living along the Trinity River.

A federal district court judge in Oregon affirmed a magistrate judge’s opinion delivered in May, which had recommended dismissal of the lawsuit against PacifiCorp. Both judges considered the legal action as untimely.

But the setback did not daunt the four tribes as they still utilized tribal funds and traveled to Scotland for a second year in a row. Their purpose was to protest the dams in the Klamath River. The tribes appealed once again to ScottishPower’s CEO, Ian Russell, and its shareholders.

They found the Scottish media sympathetic again last week, as they held demonstrations outside Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, where ScottishPower was holding its annual shareholder’s meeting. ScottishPower owns PacifiCorp, which purchased the United States company in 1999.

Complications and issues

In the mix of problems, is the fact that U.S. billionaire Warren Buffet, agreed this spring to purchase PacifiCorp from ScottishPower for a total of $9.4 billion. But the purchase is expected to take up to 18 months to accomplish.

Another fact is that PacifiCorp is in the process of re-licensing the power facilities from the dams with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must be completed by March of 2006.

Then this weekend, the Karuk Tribe reported in a press release that a member of the Scottish Parliament, Robin Harper, announced that he will be introducing a resolution to support the Hoopa, Karuk, Klamath and Yurok Tribe’s efforts to have the Klamath River Dams removed and the salmon fishery restored.

This leaves a question. Will the United Kingdom now make demands on the U.S. regarding the Klamath River and its dams? The six dams produce 150 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 150,000 homes.

The four tribes state that since building the dams, Klamath salmon numbers have plummeted to less than 8 percent of their historic levels and has devastated their tribal cultures and local economies.

But the salmon numbers do not jive with the drastic statement.

When the Iron Gate and Copco Dams were built in the early 1960s, a fish hatchery was built and has been operated by the California Department Fish and Game. It grows and releases hundreds of thousands of chinook and coho salmon each year.

In fact, returning salmon numbers have increased greatly. Throughout the 1960s, between 678 and 3,064 fall run salmon returned to the hatchery at the Iron Gate Dam.

In 1970, the number jumped to 10,503, according to the data recorded at the hatchery.

The next highest number was in the 1985-86 season, when 22,110 salmon returned.

There were some lows in the early 1990s, but in 1993-94, 21,711 returned with numbers averaging at 14,000 for several years.

Then the largest year hit in 2000-2001, just before the 100-year drought. More than 72,474 salmon returned to the Iron Gate Hatchery. The numbers remained high with 38,568 in 2001-2002.

Even the year that 32,000 salmon died on a hot September day on the Yurok Reservation in 2002, more than 24,981 returned.

The 2003-2004 year was again good with 32,260 returning.

The data shows that salmon populations have increased dramatically since the dams were first established in 1962.

Then this last year, the salmon numbers dropped to just 11,519. Scientists and government agencies are scratching their heads over the drop and for this fishing season, Klamath River salmon have found protections in the form of fishing restrictions, both in the river and in the Pacific Ocean.

Ron Reed, from the Karuk Tribe leadership, said in the press release, "These dams literally take food from the mouths of our children."

But under treaties with the U.S. government, the lower Klamath Tribes receive half of the salmon that return to the river system. Typically, they use nets to catch their share of the returning adult salmon. The Klamath River salmon fishery is considered one of the most highly-managed fishery in the world, because of the data that has been recorded for nearly 50 years.

So, while the four tribes were in Scotland complaining about a lack of salmon, recreational fishermen were already touting prize returning chinook in the Klamath River. Some are being caught that are 20 pounds. Reportedly they are taking spinners and the smaller ones are hitting Glo Bugs and natural colored bait.

Commercial fishermen were shutdown by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, when the Council decided in April to slash the commercial salmon season nearly in half. Fishermen in the San Francisco area estimated that more than 2 million salmon swam by in June, when they had been reduced in the amount they could catch.

Currently, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are reporting a lower return so far on the Rogue River, with no apparent reason for the drop other than the higher than average rainfall in late spring.

But the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is expecting more than 671,000 fall chinook salmon to the Columbia River this year, which is significantly higher than the average over the past 10 years, according to the department. There are also significant dams along the huge Columbia River.




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