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Tribes, farmers say they understand each other

Tam Moore
Capital Press Staff Writer
February 24, 2006

Farmers in the Upper Klamath Basin and two downriver American Indian tribes have agreed to talk and delay potential lawsuits over some issues that have divided them for more than a decade.

The Klamath Water Users Association and Karuk and Yurok tribes used an opinion piece in the Feb. 17 Capital Press and other newspapers to make their announcement. Steve Kandra, the Water Users’ president, said there was some immediate reaction that a “deal” of some sort had been made that might jeopardize farmers’ interests.

“There is no deal. Just agreement to talk about some issues,” said Kandra in a telephone interview.

Craig Tucker, a spokesman for the mid-river Karuk tribe, said by telephone from his office in Orleans, Calif., that members “Started to see that the bare-knuckle approach isn’t going to succeed — fish are still dying, the farmers are struggling.”

The downriver tribes hope the conversations will help advance their dream of removing three hydropower dams that block anadromous fish runs on the Klamath. All are located far below irrigation diversions for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project.

KWUA in the past two years has participated in discussions with coastal commercial fishermen, tribal officials and other people with a stake in resolving disputes that flared up after a 2001 cutoff of irrigation water to 1,100 Klamath Project farms near Klamath Falls, Ore., and the next summer with a massive fish kill in the lower Klamath River. Both events came during droughty times as federal officials tried to stretch the available water supply.

Kandra said talks identify goals for each group — sustaining fisheries for the tribes and assuring dependable water supply for the farmers. In discussions, parties agreed to listen to the other’s viewpoints “and identify each other’s issues.”

“Eventually,” said Kandra, “we hope this will lead to substantial discussions on conflicts,” perhaps avoiding some litigation that is a current feature of many Klamath disputes.

Hot button items in 2006 are clustered around:

• The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of PacifiCorp Klamath hydroelectric licenses that expire in mid-April,

• A set of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior downstream flow studies still under revision, and

• A lawsuit brought by Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations remanded by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that could result in court-ordered alternations to 2002 biological opinions controlling water discharge below the BuRec Klamath Project.

Kandra said each of those issues deals in some way with the federal government’s action in trust for the American Indian tribes. They hold treaty rights to fisheries as they existed in the 1860s. The same issues are key to farmers securing dependable water supply.

“These things are kind of overlapping,” he said.

Said Tucker: “We’re just finding ways to scratch each other’s back.”

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His email address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.




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