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Water, sucker science argued at conference
Published Feb.4, 2004
By DYLAN DARLING
About 150 scientists, policy makers and various observers gathered Tuesday for the first day of a four-day conference focusing on the data, studies and research that drive resource management decisions in the Klamath Basin.
Headlining the presentations at the Shilo Inn was William Lewis, chair of the National Research Council committee that issued a controversial report last fall about endangered and threatened fish in the Basin.
Lewis said the committee has disbanded, but its suggestions can help lead to improvements in the Basin.
The committee's findings served as the blueprint for President Bush's proposed budget increases in the Klamath Basin, which were announced last week. In all, Bush is calling for $105 million to be spent on Basin projects, from the removal of Chiloquin Dam to further study of endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.
To implement the committee's recommendations, Lewis said people in the Klamath Basin will have to continue to work together. The president's budget proposal should help to do that, he said.
"I'm glad they got the funding," Lewis said.
But some of the committee's findings and suggestions haven't gone over well with everyone in the Basin.
In particular, the finding that water levels in Upper Klamath Lake aren't as important for suckers as previously thought, and a proposal to consider killing game fish in Lake of the Woods have raised many scientific eyebrows.
Lewis said there is a vigorous debate going on about the causes and effects leading to the suckers' decline. During the research for its report, he said, the committee looked critically at the data available concerning suckers and lake levels.
It found that lake levels aren't a "master control" for larval suckers, Lewis said.
"And that was surprising, but it is what we found, so we reported it," he said.
Larry Dunsmoor, chief biologist for the Klamath Tribes, raised his hand to question the committee's lake level findings during Tuesday's conference.
"I don't agree with the NRC report because they got it wrong," he said.
Dunsmoor said the committee failed to engage researchers in the Basin.
Although Dunsmoor and Lewis don't agree on about the committee's findings, their debate is just one part of of the larger research picture.
"It's normal for scientists to disagree about their data," Dunsmoor said.
Jacob Kann, a private aquatic ecologist from Ashland, agreed with Dunsmoor's criticism of the committee's conclusions.
"Their analysis was not very comprehensive, and because of that they are drawing some conclusions that they can't support in their report," he said.
But Kann said the committee's suggestion that restoration in the Basin will truly need to be done throughout the Basin, from the tributaries to the estuaries, has merit.
Dunsmoor and Kann will both give presentations later in this week at the conference.
As for the idea of poisoning game fish in Lake of the Woods, Roger Smith, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said much more study would have to be done for something like that to happen.
He said the committee's report was based on testimony from the 1930s indicating that suckers and carp in the lake that were killed off to make way for game fish.
Smith said a closer look into history would have to be done. Smith said many lakes in the Cascades didn't naturally have fish in them, and he thinks Lake of the Woods could be one of them.
"I don't think it was clear that there was ever native fish," he said.
Currently, the Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with brown and rainbow trout and kokanee.
Chip Dale, Wildlife High Desert Region manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said for the poisoning of the game fish in the lake to happen it would take broad discussion, involving officials and the public. He said he didn't see how starting a satellite population of suckers away from Upper Klamath Lake would help the recovery of the species.
"To go and rely on postage stamp-sized populations would be missing the boat on that," he said.
Lewis said what is important right now is getting more sucker populations, and Lake of the Woods could be a place for one.
"We think that the path to take is to establish new populations, not hedge bets on suckers in Upper Klamath Lake," Lewis said.
Not every presenter at the conference Tuesday was a scientist. Many were policy makers, and one was Merrill farmer Steve Kandra.
But science was still his topic.
Kandra said scientists from the different agencies need to work together on reports so the science can be sorted out before decisions are made.
They way things are now, each group comes out with competing reports, and then things have to be settled in a court room, he said.
Kandra, a board member of the Klamath Water Users Association, said his group and others have experts they can bring to the table.
And the group's lay members can bring something else.
"I think we have some personal experience that we can bring to the issue," he said.
The conference continues through Friday and is open to the public. Admission is $20, which includes a lunch and informational binder, for the rest of the week.
Reporter Dylan Darling covers natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4471, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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