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Water discord: Upper Basin ranchers seek solution with Tribes

FORT KLAMATH — Rancher Randall Kizer believes many Upper Klamath Basin landowners and the Klamath Tribes both want what’s best for the land, from which both draw their heritage.

The Tribes recent call for water has shut off access for the cattlemen to the Wood River, which meanders through their ranches. Many fear a severe economic impact from the shutoff.

Kizer serves as president of the Landowner’s Entity, a consortium of Upper Basin landowners, and as a member of the Klamath Critical Habitat board of directors.

He and others aren’t as much in agreement with the Tribes about the details surrounding access to water in the Upper Basin, or on the future of their partnership working together.

“Sometimes, what’s right for the land can vary on the outcome you want,” Kizer said in an interview at his homestead in May. “Ag wants the outcome to make a living, but if we don’t do what’s right for the land, we’re not going to be able to make a living.

“What we’re fighting over is who gets water and how much,” he added.

Kizer is one of many ranchers concerned for the future of the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBCA), which is a partnership between the Klamath Tribes and Upper Basin irrigators.

Under the pact, ranchers agree to improve the riparian areas of the river for fish habitat, put up fencing to keep cattle out of the river and give up some water rights to benefit the river. In return, they get the water they need to irrigate.

The Tribe has asked that the UKBCA be terminated. It claims the agreement is linked to the much larger Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) which has failed to pass in Congress and was the financial linchpin to both agreements.

Kizer believes a settlement with the Tribes and the Landowner’s Entity is still possible, and hopes to continue finding a path toward an agreement.

Without the UKBCA, Kizer believes the landowner’s group, an organization formed to oversee the day-to-day implementation of the Upper Klamath Basin agreement, could easily dissolve.

“It is the glue that keeps everything together,” Kizer said. “There’s no reason our agreement has to end. KBRA is gone, we understand that. This isn’t about fish. This is about something totally different.”

The Klamath Tribes sent a letter to the Department of the Interior asking for the termination of the agreement earlier this year, saying that it wasn’t meant to stand alone outside the KBRA.

Interior has not ruled on the request, according to Kizer, but he anticipates that it may happen soon.

“We had to have a riparian management agreement and we had to have a water use agreement,” Kizer said. “Those are both spelled out within the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement. Both of them had issues that we just couldn’t quite come to resolving.”

Mediation on agreement failed in February, though Kizer emphasizes he believes more could have been done to continue the talks.

Kizer believes the agreement could not only stand on its own in terms of retiring irrigation land and riparian management, but could be a foundation to build on a new settlement.

“We can’t settle this if we’re not talking,” Kizer said.

“They’re going to lose miles and miles of riparian area because people are going to open their gates (to cattle) … they’re not going to manage their riparian area.”

Kizer reiterated he believes members of the Klamath Tribes distrust ranchers.

“Any true meaningful healing has to come from a basis of trust, and my experience with landowners is they’re a pretty trustworthy bunch,” Kizer said.

Kizer, who wrote a guest opinion in the Herald and News recently inviting the Tribes to continue discussions, said he has received no feedback from the Tribes about a request to meet.

“We will do what we have to further our cause,” Kizer said. “I think all the landowners really believe that a settlement is the best way to go ... and if we’re going to live here and work together here, everyone needs to feel like they’re getting something out of it.”

Worries over water call

FORT KLAMATH — Driving along Weed Road that connects to Loosley Road — named for Kizer’s great-grandfather — he points out the window of his pickup at the grass in his pastures. He expects the color to change from lush green to “crispy” brown by July if he cannot irrigate with water from the Wood River.

With the “call” on water by the Klamath Tribes validated by the Oregon Department of Water Resources in early May, Kizer worries he may lose 50 percent of his revenue from leasing his acreage this year if nothing changes.

Randall normally irrigates his 245 acres with water from the Wood River to feed his cattle during the summer.

“This is the first year that I haven’t had at least one irrigation,” Kizer said. “When they made the initial call, we still had standing water everywhere.”

He’s concerned about how he’ll continue to feed the 250 head of cattle during the summer, which graze his pastureland.

“We’re already almost a month behind in getting them here,” Kizer said of his cattle, which graze in California outside of summer months. “We’re either going to have to have fewer cattle or shorter periods of time (grazing),” Kizer added.

Kizer pulls his pickup into the driveway of the ranch house that he and wife, Jeanie, call home. The two-story home sits on the same piece of property established by his great-great grandfather in 1872. He took over the land when his mother, Maxine, was still alive.

The soil is rich in nitrogen, with what Randall calls “volcanic” water from Upper Klamath Lake.

Dig down a foot or two into the unfertilized soil, and he’s assured one will find plentiful water.

“Our water and soil mixture grows really good grass,” Kizer said.

A long family history on the homestead

FORT KLAMATH — While sipping coffee and sampling homemade sweet rolls one early May morning, Randall and Jeanie Kizer leaf through old photographs of the family, newspaper clippings and letters from the Department of the Interior from past years.

They share stories about the joys of watching the ever-changing world of nature surrounding their Fort Klamath ranch house, including spontaneous visits at the window from a curious owl.

Kizer returned to live on the homestead in recent years after living in the Eugene area, but his family has held claim to the land since his great-grandfather, John Loosley, established it in 1872. It’s where Kizer he spent his formative years while attending Chiloquin High School.

While on a walking tour of the Fort Klamath cemetery, Kizer spoke about Loosley as he stopped at his and his wife, Lucy’s, gravesite.

Loosley came to the U.S. from Britain. He first worked at a mill in Chicago before traveling out West by horse, Kizer said. He followed the gold trail to California, and then to Jacksonville, Ore., before settling in Fort Klamath.

The Kizers rebuilt the homestead in the early 2000s and used wood from the old house to build a cabinet and metal counter tops from the old barn inside the home.

The couple host annual reunions at the home each June, which Kizer attended in all the years he lived and worked for a railroad in the Eugene area.

Kizer was raised in the original homestead as was his mother, the late Maxine Kizer, who still ran facets of the homestead until her death in 2009.



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