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Irrigators file lawsuit over Klamath refuge restrictions

Multiple irrigators have filed a lawsuit over farming restrictions on national wildlife refuges in the Klamath basin.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on April 11, 2017 1:10PM

Last changed on April 11, 2017 4:02PM


Multiple irrigators claim the federal government’s plans for two Klamath-area national wildlife refuges unlawfully restrict farmed acres and agricultural practices.

In the final days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued plans for managing several refuges in the Klamath basin over the next 15 years.

The Tulelake Irrigation District, Klamath Water Users Association, Tulelake Growers Association and three private farms have now filed a complaint against the agency, arguing that plans for the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges violate federal laws.

The plaintiffs have asked a federal judge to overturn the management plans and impose an injunction against the farming restrictions.

“The likely effects of this shift in management will be noxious weed growth on fallowed or non-irrigated lands, wind erosion of dry topsoils, as well as detrimental social, and economic effects, all without any benefit to migrating waterfowl,” the complaint said. “Further, it would be false to assume that less agriculture will result in more water for waterfowl or wetland habitat. Indeed, the approximate is true: less agriculture will result in less water, more noxious weeds, less wetland habitat, and less food resources for waterfowl.”

Capital Press was unable to reach a representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as of press time.

National wildlife refuges in the region have long been leased for agricultural production, allowing farmers without land of their own to plant crops and expand their businesses, according to plaintiffs.

Farmers leave a portion of grain crops for waterfowl to eat and cooperate with scientists to develop innovative “wildlife-friendly farming practices” on the leased refuge acres, the complaint said.

Under the management plans issued in January, growers leasing land in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges would be subject to numerous stipulations, such as prohibitions on post-harvest field work and genetically engineered crops, the complaint said.

The government plans also to restrict alfalfa harvests, require farmland to be flooded over winter and disallow hazing of waterfowl during tilling and planting in late winter and early spring, the plaintiffs allege.

“These stipulations would or may reduce agricultural acreage and increase the number of unharvested acres of land that remain in agriculture, as well as impair the ability to productively farm on the lease lands,” the complaint said.

According to the plaintiffs, these plans violate legislation passed by Congress in 1964, known as the Kuchel Act, which requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to “continue the present pattern of leasing” of property within the refuges.

The lawsuit also claims the government insufficiently studied the “direct and indirect adverse environmental effects” of the restrictions, while failing to show they actually helped waterfowl.

Aside from the irrigators’ complaint, the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service is also contending with a lawsuit filed by environmentalists who claim the agency unlawfully lets farmers use pesticides on leased refuge acres.



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