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Conservation Groups Sue to Get More Water to Klamath Wildlife Refuges

January 18, 2017

Three Oregon conservation groups say a new plan to manage National Wildlife Refuges in the Klamath Basin doesn’t do enough to protect habitat. The groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Medford to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider additional options.

The service finalized the Comprehensive Conservation Plan earlier this year. The 15-year plan covers Lower Klamath, Clear Lake, Tule Lake, Upper Klamath and Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuges, all located along the Oregon-California border.  They comprise some of the most important migratory bird habitat on the West Coast.

WaterWatch of Oregon is one of the organizations behind the lawsuit. Spokesman Jim McCarthy says the new plan could leave marshes and lakes high and dry.

“Water that the refuge has a right to, comes to the refuge every year.  And it goes to agriculture, commercial agriculture, onions and potatoes, instead of serving the purpose of the refuge, which is fish and wildlife,” he said.

Commercial agriculture is allowed on the Klamath Refuge Complex. WaterWatch wants Fish and Wildlife to consider a water transfer that would earmark the refuge's senior water right for wildlife habitat instead of agriculture.

Drought and water allocation decisions in recent years have led to bird die-offs at the refuges. When there's not enough water in the marshes, migratory birds crowd together in what little water this is, leading to disease outbreaks. 

Oregon Wild and Audubon Society of Portland are also plaintiffs on the suit.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on pending litigation.  


American white pelicans normally spend the summer months on freshwater lakes and rivers farther south and east, like here at Oregon's Lake Klamath.

Jes Burns, OPB

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