Letter: Wildlife and agriculture can coexist

(Gillian Flaccus | AP photo) In this March 2 photo, birds take off from a marsh in the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge in the Klamath Basin along the Oregon-California border.

Pepper Trail’s Dec. 26 commentary on Klamath Basin wildlife refuges ably describes the botulism outbreak on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge that tragically killed tens of thousands of waterfowl in 2020.

Mr. Trail misses the cause of the problem, which is the reallocation of water to endangered fish species. For generations, both agriculture in the Klamath Project and the national wildlife refuges have had adequate water supplies in the great majority of years. In more recent years, however, regulators have required that water historically available for irrigation and refuges instead be held in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered suckers, or released down the Klamath River for coho salmon.

The results? Devastation for agricultural communities and hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife. Meanwhile, the regulatory dictates for more water for ESA-listed species have resulted in no demonstrable benefits for those species whatsoever.

This doesn’t make sense. It also doesn’t make sense to blame agriculture for the refuges’ challenges. Klamath Project irrigators received only about 40% of the water they needed in the 2020 irrigation season. Without farmers’ and irrigation districts’ creativity and work, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge might have received no water at all. The plan for providing flows to ultimately mitigate botulism on Tule Lake Refuge was the brainchild of an irrigation district manager, not of critics of agriculture.

There is a strong partnership between Klamath agriculture and wildlife and refuge managers. Also, birds and beasts do not know where the boundaries between public refuge and private farmland lie. Irrigated farms and ranches house and feed vast numbers of wildlife.

Basin fish populations are stressed. That has led regulators to impose stress on farms and wildlife. We need comprehensive solutions, not stereotypes pitting agriculture against the species with whom we share our land and water.

Paul Simmons

executive director and counsel, Klamath Water Users Association, Klamath Falls, Ore.

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