Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:00 AM
Irrigators argue spring chinook runs have always been lower than others
By TIM HEARDEN
TULELAKE, Calif. -- A group that represents irrigators in the Klamath Basin is fighting environmentalists' attempt to have Klamath River chinook salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Such a listing would have a dramatically negative impact on the economy of the basin, which straddles the Oregon-California state line, as well as commercial and recreational fishing and tribal harvest opportunities, the Klamath Water Users Association argues.
The listing of chinook in addition to coho salmon in the basin could mean more water must be sent downstream, which would affect more than just water users in the Klamath Reclamation Project, said Greg Addington, the KWUA's executive director.
"A chinook listing has some pretty broad implications," Addington said. "I think that whereas maybe with the coho thing, we were the only ones mostly looking at that, I think this chinook thing has a lot of people's attention."
Environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild petitioned for the chinook's listing in January. They argued that dams, water diversions, logging and other activities led to the fish's decline.
The petition particularly seeks protection for spring-run chinook, noting that biologists now count just 300 to 3,000 wild-spawning spring chinook in the river each year.
The KWUA, whose members consist primarily of irrigation districts, worked with the consulting firm Cramer Fish Sciences to review technical points raised by the petitioners and submitted findings to the federal government.
In its comments, the KWUA argued that the abundance of spring-run chinook has historically been low compared to the fall run, dating to at least the early 1900s. The most prominent natal area for spring-run chinook has been the Salmon River, a tributary close to the mouth of the Klamath River, the KWUA contends.
The group also disputes environmentalists' assertion that spring-run chinook should be considered separately from fall-run fish, and it cites fish management agencies' recent studies finding that chinook populations in the basin "are sufficiently robust."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service determined in April that the petition warrants federal review. The agency took comments earlier this year and will make a finding by January 2012 as to whether chinook salmon in the Upper Klamath and Trinity rivers should be listed as endangered or threatened.
If so, a proposed rule will be published and more public comments will be taken, NOAA explained in a news release.
Klamath Water Users Association: www.kwua.org
Center for Biological Diversity: www.biologicaldiversity.org
Oregon Wild: www.oregonwild.org
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: www.noaa.gov