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Letter: Project bad for salmon (because of killer whales)
Fisheries managers’ findings will not affect irrigators this season
by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 6/20/08

   The Klamath Reclamation Project will negatively impact coho salmon, federal fisheries managers said in a letter, but their findings won’t affect irrigators this growing season. 

   The National Marine Fisheries Service hasn’t submitted a final biological opinion on operation of the Project and wants to work with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop ways to protect the endangered fish species, the letter said. The letter discussed the National Marine Fisheries Service draft biological opinion. The full report is not yet public.

   Without a biological opinion yet this growing season, Reclamation officials say they will stick with prior standards. 

   But portions of the new draft hint at future issues, including a finding that operating the Project may be negatively impacting killer whales in the Pacific Ocean. 

   “It’s ridiculous. What’s next for us? Polar bears, Siberian tigers, African rhinos? ” said Greg Addington, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, in an e-mail. 

   Biological opinions inform Reclamation officials how to run the Project without adversely affecting fish species or habitat. 

   Reclamation requested new biological opinions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service last
summer because of technical errors in documents and new data regarding environmental impacts of the Project.

Previous opinion 

   Fish and Wildlife officials submitted an opinion regarding Upper Klamath Lake and the Lost River and shortnose suckers in early April. Their report said the fish would not be negatively impacted by the Project. 

   Christine Karas, deputy area manager for Reclamation, said National Marine Fisheries Service hasn’t submitted its final report. The delay and the state of water supplies in the Klamath Basin this year mean that any findings from the report will not be instituted this year. 

   “We feel like we’re in pretty good shape, waterwise,” she said. 

   Russ Strach, an assistant regional administrator with NMFS said it is unclear how the agency’s report would impact future irrigation. The letter suggests increased river flows in certain water years may be necessary, but does not make recommendations on how to protect coho salmon. 

   “I honestly don’t know the outcome,” Strach said. 

   Fisheries Service representatives are meeting with Reclamation and USFW officials in the coming months to develop specific actions. Curt Mullis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife field supervisor, said recommendations are being sought internally. Karas said she expected a final document by next spring. 

   Irrigators also are evaluating the draft opinion to see what their next step should be. Addington said there should be no concern this year, thanks to the late wet weather.
Killer whales and the Klamath Basin

   Whether the Klamath Reclamation Project will affect killer whales is a question irrigators and fisheries officials may have to address. 

   “…it has recently come to our attention that the endangered Orcinus orca (commonly known as orcas or “killer whales”)…could be affected by the proposed action since operation of the Klamath Project may affect the amount of prey for orcas (e.g. chinook salmon) during certain periods when orcas are feeding along the West Coast,” a letter from National Marine Fisheries Service said. 

   Russ Strach, an assistant regional administrator with NMFS said his agency began looking into impacts on killer whales after data from the Columbia River showed that hydropower activity was leading to declines in Chinook salmon. 

   Christine Karas, deputy area manager with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said she was surprised killer whales were mentioned as being impacted by the Project. But, she added, chinook salmon are a primary food source for the endangered whales and impacts to their food sources require investigation. 

   Karas said there are potential legal issues because chinook hatcheries are below Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River and on the Trinity River. However, not all varieties of chinook salmon are threatened, and that includes those coming from the Klamath River system, she said.
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