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Congressional subcommittee hearing on the ESA

The Pioneer Press grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.

Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Vol. 32, No. 35
Page 1, column 2

Solutions for the ESA

-- Frustrations were high, but peace prevailed at parade and rally in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

-- Five U.S. Congressmen questioned witnesses during hearing.

By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

KLAMATH FALLS, OREGON – By the end of the congressional subcommittee hearing, it was clear: Acting on and doing two items would reduce the tension regarding Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species of sucker fish and coho salmon. Five congressmen expected federal agency officials to do both.

Those two items are: Find and create more water storage in the Upper Klamath Lake; and apply independent scientific peer review on decisions likely to affect humans, like the irrigation water shut-off to Klamath Project farmers did in 2001.

This hearing, held last Saturday morning, discussed possible improvements to the ESA. Finding solutions was the goal. A panel of nine witnesses were asked to speak during the hearing and to answer questions posed by congressmen regarding the ESA.

Federal agencies were taken to task for the irrigation water shut-off in 2001 by congressmen. Officials of those agencies were asked if the population numbers increased for ESA-listed sucker fish and coho, because of the water shut-off.

The answer was "no."

Irrigation water from a federal Bureau of Reclamation Project to 90 percent of the 1,400 Klamath Project farmers and 5,000 small city lot or small acreage irrigators was shut-off at the A canal. This is the concrete diversion canal from huge Upper Klamath Lake, which is on the outskirts of Klamath Falls, but within city limits.

Ownership of the headgates at the A canal diversion created heated debate during that 2001 water shut-off. Bureau of Reclamation operates the water irrigation system to the hundreds of miles of canals and ditches that make up the oldest food-producing reclamation project in the nation.

Chairman of the hearing, Congressman Ken Calvert, gave the nine witnesses homework and a deadline.

"Start looking for a long-term solution," he said and wanted those solutions within a two-week time frame.

The subcommittee is also accepting testimony from other members of the public for eight more days. Those comments can be sent by email to the Congressional Resources Committee at resources.committee@ mail.house.gov.

The ESA is a complicated law.

The ESA was enacted by congress in 1973. Complaints about politics driving irrational decisions, when it comes to listing a species to the ESA, has created a chasm of mistrust.

This hearing was held by the U.S. Congressional Water and Power committee on July 17 at the Ross Ragland Theater in Klamath Falls.

The nine witnesses were from Oregon and California and included federal agency officials, scientists, county commissioners from the Oregon coast and a World War II veteran homesteader in the Klamath Project.

Troy Fletcher was chosen to represent the four Native American Tribes with aboriginal lands along the Klamath River. While he explained that the tribes were disappointed in their lack of individual representation, Fletcher’s remarks remained balanced and he said the tribes were ready to "roll up their sleeves to work" on a solution.

But things changed at the end of the hearing, when Chairman of the Klamath Tribes, Allen Foreman, took offense to Congressman John Doolittle’s comments. The congressman spoke plainly of frustrations with the ESA. Foreman replied that he did not believe that "doing away with the ESA is going to solve the problem."

Doolittle immediately apologized for any offense.

Later, Congressman Doolittle told the Pioneer Press that the hearing had nothing to do with "doing away with the ESA."

Doolittle said the ESA needs modernization, ultimately, so that species listed with the ESA eventually increase in population numbers so that they can be removed from the list.

Only 7 of 1,300 species have improved.

Several of the congressmen said that there should be a goal established by the ESA -- and that goal should be to see species thrive.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chairman Calvert, said that only seven species of the 1,300 that have been listed with the ESA have had a population increase. De-listing a specie is rarely considered.

"That success rate is less than one-percent," said Calvert, providing the reasoning for making improvements to the ESA.

Congressman Greg Walden, from Oregon, said, "The ESA has never been updated. We need to fix it so it works for people and species."

Currently, the ESA manages for each single specie and it has been learned that species interact with other animals. Multi-specie management would provide a broader focus.

Congressmen in attendance were:

Chairman Ken Calvert from California’s 44th district; George Radanovich, from California’s 19th district; Greg Walden from Oregon’s 2nd district; Wally Herger, California 2nd district; and John T. Doolittle, California 4th district.





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