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The Tri-County Courier
Published February 18, 2004  Pg 1
by Kehn Gibson

'Root' meeting held Tuesday

The fifth in a series of closed meetings was held Tuesday at the Shilo Inn in Klamath Falls, and attendees anticipate a "turning point" in the negotiations.

Organized and funded by Medford businessman Jim Root, a landowner in the Upper Basin, the meetings have brought together representatives from the lower Basin irrigation community, the Klamath Tribes, and upper Basin irrigators to attempt to forge what Department of Interior bureaucrats have called a "solution package" for water issues in the Klamath Basin.

Proposals voiced in past meetings have included a 20 percent downsizing of the Klamath Project and a return of nearly 700,000 acres of national forestland to the Tribes in exchange for an easing of demands for higher lake levels to protect endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.

The secret nature of the meetings has drawn criticism from people and organizations who believe that closed doors protect special interests while ignoring the interests of the community at large.

Organizers of the meetings, Root's Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, have said attendance at the meetings was limited to foster open dialogue, and their intention is to present a "solution package" to the community at large for comment.

On Monday, invited attendees said Tuesday's meeting will be a critical one.

"We will present a package to representatives of the Bush Administration and see what they think of it," said one, who asked to remain unnamed.  "We have worked very hard and come up with a solution that has a lot of potential."

"We have sought water balance in the Basin, taking in the concerns of all parties," said a second attendee.  "I think we have a product that will work, but we have to present it to the federal folks and see what they think."

Publicly, and to the Tribal membership at large, the Tribal Administration has maintained their firm stand that higher levels in Upper Klamath Lake are required to restore the health of federally endangered suckerfish who inhabit the lake.

That stand has contributed to weak support for a return of Tribal reservation lands, lost in 1954 when they were sold to pay Tribal members withdrawing from the Tribes after federal supervision was terminated.

The higher lake levels, which contributed to the denial of water to the Project in 2001, are a sore point to Project irrigators.

Agriculturists have been aware for several years that suckerfish populations in Clear Lake, a lake that regularly sees wide fluctuations in lake levels and has none of the emergent vegetation that federal and Tribal biologists claim must be flooded to provide critical habitat for juvenile fish, are the healthiest in the region.

In the last few months, scientists have provided data that support the unscientific yet common sense claims of the agriculturalists.

Despite a declaration in the U. S. Fish and Wildlife's 2001 Biological Opinion that fish kills in 1995, 1996, and 1997 killed an estimated "80 to 90 percent" of the adult sucker population, it is now known that a tagging program begun in 1992 saw that less than 1 percent of the dead fish that were recovered were tagged.

About 3,000 tagged fish were found - if 3,000 fish is 1 percent, then a reasonable, scientific estimate of the population in the lake between 1995 and 1997 would be 300,000, far more fish than the dire population numbers claimed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife.

A report by the National Academy of Science's review panel drew a similar conclusion.



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