Fish & Wildlife | Water | Ecotrope

Groups to request Klamath chinook protection

Ecotrope | Jan. 27, 2011 4:06 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:41 p.m.

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Four environmental groups have teamed up to ask the federal government to protect Klamath River spring and fall chinook salmon in northern California and southern Oregon under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild, Environmental Protection Information Center and Larch Company filed a petition today with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, released this statement  today:

“Wild chinook salmon in the Klamath have been devastated by a century of habitat destruction and need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive. Dams, water withdrawals, logging, hatcheries and now disease and climate change are driving the Klamath’s chinook salmon toward extinction.”  

The petition lays out the case for listing spring chinook in particular. They were once the most abundant Klamath chinook run and now biologists count between 300 to 3,000 spawners each year. The Klamath Basin as a whole was once the third-largest producer of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast, but it has become less of a fish-producing powerhouse in recent years.

Water shortages have plagued the basin, with competing needs from farmers, hydroelectric dams and fish. All eyes were on Klamath River chinook after a major fish kill in 2002 that wiped out tens of thousands of adult salmon; low numbers of Klamath salmon shut down much of the West Coast commercial salmon fishery in 2006. Scientists have found a much higher occurrence of a killer parasite in Klamath River salmon compared with salmon in other rivers.

The river is also prone to algae growth, high water temperatures and poor water quality – all of which can affect salmon survival. Greenwald said he thinks the petition has a good chance of being approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is in charge of managing and protecting salmon, but he’s also expecting resistance from water users in the basin and possibly from commercial fishers as well.

Farmers in the Klamath Basin already struggle to get enough water to grow their crops. A settlement agreement signed last year were supposed to satisfy all stakeholders in the Klamath Basin, establishing water right sharing between farmers and fish and planning the eventual removal of four dams on the river – with the first scheduled to be removed in 2020.

Will listing the chinook salmon throw those agreements out of whack? I’ll be looking into that as this petition makes its way through the approval process.

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