'Fish protection' debunked as motive for bankrupting Oregon farmers

By Vin Suprynowicz
February 2002

It comes too late to save the farms and livelihoods of hundreds of southern Oregon farmers left high and dry last summer, but the National Academy of Sciences released a report Feb. 5 bearing out what those farmers have been saying all along -- the federal government did not have sufficient scientific evidence to cut off irrigation water to the farms below Oregon's Klamath Lake Dam.

Two hundred thousand acres of the Klamath Valley in southwest Oregon went without irrigation water last summer, with 1,500 affected farm families suffering losses that may total $250 million, dwarfing a $20 million emergency federal aid package.

But the problem wasn't drought -- there's still plenty of water behind the dam which the federal government built in 1909, thereafter holding "land lotteries" for veterans of both the First and Second World Wars, encouraging the winners to settle the valley and set up farms by signing contracts which promised irrigation water would always be provided.

Rather, the farmers were effectively put out of business -- 90 percent of farms in the area being left entirely without water and thus condemned to total crop loss -- when the Bureau of Reclamation broke the irrigation contract, supposedly to save two species of "threatened" sucker fish living in the lakes above the dams and to avoid harming the Coho salmon in the river below.

The farmers have contended all along that populations of suckers (previously regarded as a "nuisance" or "trash" species) above the dams have actually been not diminishing but skyrocketing -- from 5,000 in the lake when the species were listed as endangered more than a decade ago, to at least 100,000 today. And the NAS review due out today now agrees there was not sufficient scientific evidence to justify the actions of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service in withholding the water previously promised to the farmers.

The decision was made without even checking to see whether populations of suckers above the dam have risen, fallen, or stayed the same (a study which would take years), reports Peter Moyle, a professor of fish biology at the University of California, Davis (and one of the study's authors.)

As for the Klamath River coho salmon, the data available doesn't prove increased summer water flows would benefit the fish, Moyle said this week. In fact, he pointed out that water used to increase flows would come from reservoirs where the water is too warm for the fragile coho, anyway.

The Klamath Valley abomination has never been about saving fish -- it's been about the antigrowth agenda of radical environmental groups like the Oregon Natural Resources Council, whose spokesmen hate the region's very lushness because it's artificial. Such groups forthrightly state their goal is to force farmers off the land. In this case, the Oregon "greens" drafted a plan which calls for the federal government to buy much of the basin's farmland, turning a lush and verdant valley which feeds hundreds of thousands of Americans back into a "desert preserve."

"Rural Cleansing," the local farmers call it.

And it's working. Businesses were already closing -- and school populations falling by as much as 30 percent -- in towns like Klamath Falls, population 17,000, and Tulelake, California, population 1,000, as early as last June.

What an interesting new religion, this doctrine that man's proper role in the world is to be less fruitful, do less multiplying, and to turn the gardens of the earth into deserts. Whatever shall we call it?


Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site.

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