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Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Quotes of participants lead you through this tribal tour. Past and present land practices, questions and answers, economics, restoration, forest management, tribal termination, spotlighting, and many other issues are included.  Loggers and ranchers offered some suggestions. KBC

October 20, 2003

The Klamath Project Irrigators and Klamath County Commissioners were invited by the Klamath Tribes to tour lands in the Winema Forest that used to be their reservation, and that they want to repossess. At 8 a.m. we met at the beautiful Tribal Headquarters in Chiloquin.  Vice Chairman Joe Hobbs began with an invocation.

Chairman Allen Foreman expressed how the tours can bring us together as a community, "Our way of life that we cherish so dearly, just like yours, is threatened. It's my hope that we can bring the view of the world together as a community, not just Upper Basin and Lower Basin, tribal and non tribal...We, like each of you, are concerned about the future here in the Basin, and concerned about the future for our children." We also hope you see that we truly care about the land and our resources just as we've seen and know that you do as well.  ...When you arrived in the basin, particularly in the basin above the lake and the upper basin, you arrived in a condition that wasn't fully the way it should be.  You arrive at an already degraded condition about the lake."

Steve West, Klamath County Commissioner:  "I think that as a community we're starting to concentrate more on things that we agree on, and less and less on the things that we have disagreement on....I look forward to the day that we are one community."

Dan Keppen, Klamath Water Users Executive Director, "...I'm tired of outside interests splitting us up....we want to see young farmers wanting to stay in the basin....What we're looking for is certainty; that's what we need to keep our community whole....some people don't want us to be talking but it's ridiculous....we're the ones that have to come up with a solution..."

Becky Hyde expressed, "We need to work it out now."

Foreman, The Klamath "Tribes are made up of 3 tribes: the Klamaths, the Modocs and the Yahoskins. They had control of 22 million acres....but (with) the treaty of 1864 we ceded 20 million acres and retained...2.1 million acres.  By 1957, at the time of termination, our land was reduced to 880,000 acres.  At no time did the Klamath Tribes ever vote for termination...In many respects it was similar to the ONRC proposal of today: a termination of private landowners...the termination policy was nothing short of ethnic cleansing...In 1986 we were reorganized as a nation."

Foreman explained how the tribes use roots, plants, and many species of plants and animals.  "...from the mountain tops to the stream beds are not only a part of who we are, but a vital part of our spiritual connection to all things."

"The tribes economy is not based on dollar and cents.  Even though we depend on the dollar heavily today in today's world, our economy is based on the availability of resources that we depend on for our daily existence."

"Natural fires were part of the ecosystem management.  In 1960 there were about 600 miles of roads on the former reservation.  Until 1970 there was less that 11,000 acres of irrigated agriculture within the former reservation boundaries.  The majority of irrigated lands were in Modoc Point and Wood River areas...The Klamath Marsh had over 20,000 acres of seasonal open water..."

"The suppression of natural fires has caused an overloading of fuels, causing several stands of fires within the past few decades.  Today there are over 6,000 miles of roads on the former reservation.  Today there are over 50,000 acres of irrigated agriculture within the former reservation boundaries...Nearly all our traditional gathering places are within private hands....Today the tribes are forced to act because of loss of livelihood."

"We believe that storage is a necessary component....Restoration of the Upper Basin and habitat and resources is vital.  We must all be assured a stable water supply to provide for our resources."

"You (the media), must not continue to act in a divisive manner."

Will Hatcher, Tribal Forester, said that their forest plan should be done by mid-November.  He told about the renown foresters and peer-review team that are reviewing their plan. Our management goal is "to move as much of the forest as possible toward a structurally complex ponderosa pine and mixed conifer dominated forest as rapidly as possible."

Their overview is:
1. increase stand complexity.
2.  reduce stand densities
3.  reduce fuels between trees and from ground to crown
4.  restore a more natural fire regime
5.  increase carrying capacity for deer, elk, and other species.
6. enhance spiritual and cultural values.
7.  produce monetary and subsistence income.

To do this, they would
1.  protect big trees
2.  thin overgrown stands
3.  set prescribed burns
4.  mow the shrub layer

Larry Dunsmoor, chief biologist for the tribes, had an hour slide presentation, "Aquatic restoration of the Upper Klamath Basin--the path to a better future."

He showed pictures of netting fish when there were more fish.  "Aquatic systems have been extensively degraded over the past century by land and water use practices...Degraded conditions let to tremendous conflict in the Klamath Basin from the headwaters to the ocean." He said this while showing images of floating dead fish, inferring that our 'degraded conditions' caused the kill fish near the ocean.  He said that vegetation has been removed, which ruined our river banks.

Then he showed an image of cattle by a stream, "Here is an example of that:  you have sagebrush growing on banks, the river's down in a trench--it's just something we need to work on." The subtle theme throughout was, cattle by streams are bad.

Regarding the width of the streams, "It is one of the things that needs to be addressed through our systems, they are much too wide.  We need to narrow them up.  How we do that is one of our challenges."

"We should be looking hard at restoring some of these wetlands around Upper Klamath (UK) Lake.... These areas were major sources of PH load, so changes in management here are beneficial...."  Referring to ag land turned into wetlands by conservancies, "we really see a decrease in loading as a result of these efforts....Lets say we were to breach these dikes and let them become as they once were.  We'll see an immediate increase in the storage capacities of the lake".

NOTE FROM KBC   Go HERE for update on wetland evaporation, and HERE for another perspective on phosphorus levels when dikes are breached, from The Nature Conservancy UK tour.

Dunsmoor showed a slide of a wetland with some dry spots and compared the current condition with farmers in 2001, ""Just as during the 2001 event you could see dry farmlands, on a much higher frequency you can go out onto UK Lake and see this sort of feature."

"My only point here is to encourage  people not to reflexively, automatically say, "oh well, wetlands are just going to use more water so wetland aren't good storage.  I don't think that's a very defensible position."

"Grazing management would result in bank stability"  He said we must "eliminate warm surface irrigation return flows...Once water is used for irrigation it should not return as a surface flow...If we greatly reduce use of groundwater for irrigation, allow artesian aquifer to recover, increase cold groundwater in the Sprague River."

Dunsmoor referred to riparian work in UK by Jim Root, with Rangeland Trust. He showed slides of Agency Creek Restoration, which reengineered part of the River to make it narrow. "Take appropriate actions to restore proper shape to river channels---possibilities range from management changes to channel construction."


Q Gary Wright, Tulelake rancher and farmer, asked how they would monitor this after they reconstruct the rivers.
A. Dunsmoor:  with monitor equipment, being adequately staffed.

Q Bill Kennedy, Project farmer  regarding phosphorus, Maybe we've actually slowed that process down in the last 150 years.  Maybe it was supposed to be that way.

A Dunsmoor  We have accelerated the process.  "I profoundly disagree with the thinking that UK lake is naturally hypoutrophic.  It's just not  supportable with the evidence.  All evidence indicates the contrary..."

We headed down Rd 22  toward Beatty  in tribal vans, and our driver was Don Gentry, a Natural Resource Specialist.  He was fortunate to get his education by on-the-job training.

Will Hatcher, at our first stop in the forest, showed us sample trees and brush like they want to fix, discussing money, brush removal, logging, and answering questions.

tour stop, photo by Barb Hall

Will Hatcher

Becky Hyde, Upper Basin

"This stand would probably cost $4-500/acre, thinning, brush treatment, and prescribed fire." Alone, it would cost "$250/acre to mechanically treat brush." "That would come from appropriated funds."

Q. Where do appropriated funds come from?"

A "They come from the federal government, they come from taxpayers."

Hatcher said they would not harvest trees 21" in diameter.

Logger said there are 3 big trees behind you. You could take one big diameter tree to off set your cost you could pay for your project as you went."

A. "We're not looking at it that way.  We're trying to maintain this structure and type of tree.  Trees like this are central to the tribe's restoration management plan."

Hatcher "I don't think it will pay for itself, especially with this bush.  It's not an economically driven plan, it's a restoration driven plan."

David King, Klamath Project farmer and rancher, "How would I, as a community member, benefit from this plan?"

A  "Not too much different from what you do today..."

Hatcher  Now the tribes can harvest one mule deer per month per tribal member.  it changes throughout the season.

Now we mow the brush with machines.

Becky Hyde  "How bout some contract grazing to do the same job: You could come in and graze a lot of the bitterbrush off."

A  I can't see cattle grazing once it gets to this stage.."

Hyde  "If you would put a lot of cattle on here for a short time you would get rid of this bush and it would be great for next year and it wouldn't cost you anything."

A.  "I'll bet you're a rancher."

Logger:  When the logger explained that if they would cut one of the 3 large trees, the other 2 would grow better, Hatcher laughed and said, "You must be a logger."

They are talking of a biomass energy system using smaller trees:

Jeff Mitchell, tribes: "We've already secured funding to research that." We're bringing in the top researchers like we did with the forest   plan.

Dan Keppen: How does this compare economically with how the Forest Service manages the forest?

Foreman:  "Currently it costs the FS $20 million a year and they're bringing in a million.  So I think that won't be too hard to beat."

Mitchell, "I think that our ability to work with the community here and make the kind of decisions that we're looking for is going to be far greater under tribal control and management than what the FS has to deal with with the shifting changes in policy and the outside influences  We've seen it lately with those outside interests trying to dictate how we're going to live in this community together....I think the tribe is in a good position to do that."

Luther Horsley, Project irrigator, "Are you going  to limit the number of deer you take like you limit the size of the trees?"

Gerta Hyde, "The deer in our area never get a chance to be left alone.  When I ride out in the Sprague there are gut piles with fetuses in them.  This isn't right.  If we could stop this type of hunting I am sure the deer herds would increase."

Foreman: "The number of deer we take for food on the table is far less than the state through its hunting process takes for sport."

Gerta:  "What about the spotlighting the deer?  Do you think that's the way you should be hunting, or should you to back to hunting the way your forefathers did to put food on the table.  I think high powered rifles and spotlights and big trucks all over the place is not right."

Foreman: "Again progression: people came over in the covered wagons.  Should we go back to that? Progression, spotlighting, if there were more deer you'd see a lot less incidence of spotlighting. I guarantee you would."

Gerta "I think we ought to stop all spotlighting!"

Don Gentry, "The tribes are trying to provide subsistence for the tribal members. We don't want to make it illegal for a tribal member to go out and take a deer unless there's biological sound reasons to prohibit tribal members from spotlighting.  People need the meat...it is a traditional thing for native Americans and other people to use efficient means to get their needs met....it's about feeding families.  It's about taking care of people's needs...We know that it's not a hunting related issue, it's a habitat related issue."

I could spend 2 or 3 days trying to drive around here and see 200 animals.  You didn't see that. You could see it in the agriculture fields because of the poorer conditions of forage and habitat on the lands...."

Don Gentry in van, "tribal members did have an option at termination, to receive their share of assets in cash at that time or to be managed by an unknown entity...US Bank.

Barb Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade, 16,000 members got $43,000, 660 opted out and were terminated later and got over $50,000.

Gentry, "We went to claims court and settled out of court."

Bob Flowers, Project irrigator in van, "My understanding was, there was a group that went to DC to lobby for termination of the tribes."

Gentry, "There was a faction of the tribes...with Wade Crawford, that spoke for termination, and others spoke against it."

Flowers, "How come Edison Chiloquin was outcast because he did not sell his land? ...he was an outcast although he stood for what he wanted."

Gentry, "He basically refused a check and was an outcast.  After that, the terminated members were given a 160 acre parcel which they also could sell..... There were many incidents of people's land being swindled."

Flowers, "From my standpoint, if there had been a lot more Klamath Indians on that boat it would be a lot easier for me to understand the hard feelings of termination."

The Tribes treated us all to a great venison lunch in Sprague River.

Proceeding back toward  Chiloquin overlooking the Sprague, Foreman said, "We're at 5000' here.  You're lucky to get 2 crops of alfalfa.  Its just not productive agriculturally." Helen Crume-Smith, Tribal member, told what the valley looked like in the 50's, with many willow trees and no irrigated agriculture.

We drove to the Tribes sucker hatchery, located north and up the hill from the old Bray Mill site on the Chiloquin to Sprague River Highway.

The hatchery grows both Lost River and Shortnose Suckers but none of them will ever be released into the wild. Dunsmoor calls them "domesticated" and would not survive in Upper Klamath Lake. Mostly they are used for research.


He said hatchery personnel feed the suckers brine shrimp. He explained that it is not important to count the suckers because their ages are more important that the amount of fish.

We returned to Chiloquin.

It was a beautiful day.






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