Look at the map to the right. See the big “0” for the Klamath? That is the current snowpack level for the Klamath River watershed. There’s none left.
This year’s drought is set to have dire consequences for salmon and other native wildlife that rely on the Klamath River and the region’s wetlands. But drought alone doesn’t explain the Klamath’s woes.
With snowpack at 0%, government-subsidized irrigators on the Klamath Irrigation Project are still getting almost 50% of normal water deliveries! Not only that, but agribusiness interests are currently growing alfalfa and potatoes on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges with irrigation water from the Klamath River, while neighboring wetlands on the refuges go completely dry.
Insufficient water levels and rising temperatures in the Klamath River are causing a severe outbreak of a deadly parasite in chinook salmon. But, just yesterday, the federal government announced they had no water left to send down the river to help avert an almost certain fish kill.
Upriver, decades of converting wetlands to agribusiness lands has left only 15% of marshes and wetlands remaining. Worse, Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges have been intensively farmed (with pesticides and the whole nine yards) for decades despite the fact that they were set aside as wildlife habitat a century ago.
While irrigators continue to farm the desert by drawing water from the Klamath River year after year—Lower Klamath Refuge has received so little water that there have been no permanent wetlands for a decade! Without wetlands, tens of thousands of birds have died annually from avian cholera and botulism. Just a few decades ago, this area was visited by over 6 million birds annually. Now that number is 1 million and still falling.
This year’s drought and man-made water shortage is dire, but Oregon Wild and their partners are not standing idly by. In March, they won the first round in a court case aimed at forcing the federal government to create a comprehensive plan for managing the Klamath’s national wildlife refuges. The victory in court will force the US Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze whether continued commercial agriculture on the refuges is compatible with their primary purpose to provide habitat for native wildlife.
Wildlife refuges should be what their name implies—refuges from our developed world and places where species pushed to the brink can still thrive. With your help, we will restore the Klamath refuges to their former glory and ensure that wildlife no longer bat last.