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Mikkelsen, water users respond to dropped lawsuit

Senior Department of the Interior official Alan Mikkelsen regards the dismissal of a lawsuit regarding the Endangered Species Act against the Bureau of Reclamation as “a positive step,” but is no more willing to invite the Klamath Tribes to the table to talk after learning of the action.

Mikkelsen, who just completed a visit to the Klamath Basin, maintains that anyone who reaches out to him and his staff will be received to be part of a new coalition of stakeholders he formed during his stay in Klamath Falls.

The coalition now includes Klamath, Modoc, Siskiyou and Humboldt counties and various representatives from federal agencies.

“If the parties could go forth focusing on the resource and the resource needs, then there’s a lot of possibilities for a resolution,” Mikkelsen said in a phone interview with the H&N.

When asked if the action opens the door to talks with the Tribes, Mikkelsen said he needs to see a commitment that the Tribes are a willing party.

“If they are willing to be a part of the coalition of the willing, we would be more than happy to accept them,” Mikkelsen said.

“Their neighbors in fact are joining the coalition so we’ve got people basically from the top of the Basin to the bottom of the Basin prepared to talk about water quality and fisheries management and water management issues.”

When asked if Mikkelsen would invite the Klamath Tribes to any future meetings, he said, “I think that the ball’s in their court to indicate whether or not that they want to participate. They can certainly give us a call and simply indicate that they would like to participate in that coalition and those discussions, and we’ll make sure that they’re informed of the time and place.”

Mikkelsen said Monday that his last interaction with the Tribes was during an August General Council meeting. Mikkelsen said he felt disrespected at the meeting and is waiting for the Tribes to reach out to him if they want to continue talks.

Tribal Chairman Don Gentry said earlier this week that he believes the Klamath Tribes is clear about what they want, which is to protect the endangered shortnose and Lost River sucker from extinction.

Mikkelsen also addressed the expedited biological opinion, which appears to have spurred the dismissal of the lawsuit. (see related story)

He called himself an “advocate” for the expedited process, but said credit for the expedited process should go to the Mid-Pacific Region of the Bureau of Reclamation.

“We’ve talked about this at the regional level,” Mikkelsen said. “The discussions and the decisions were made at the regional level to go forward with this accelerated process.”

Brad Kirby, president of Klamath Water Users Association, also weighed in on the action by the Tribes.

Kirby said the association is pleased by the action, but he emphasized he doesn’t see the drop of the lawsuit as a “win” necessarily.

“It doesn’t solve the problems, it doesn’t solve our issues,” Kirby said. “We still have a ways to go and we still have to all come together.

“I really do believe we can still come together and make things work, not just for irrigators, or ranchers and farmers, but for fish and for tribes and for all stakeholders involved,” Kirby added.



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