Friday, October 01, 2010

Birds and Drought: Lower Klamath Refuge

The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 as the first refuge for waterfowl in the United States, encompasses an area of nearly 54,000 acres straddling the California-Oregon border.

According to refuge manager Ron Cole, water conditions on the refuge are "the driest on record since the 1940’s, as evidenced by mud flats, cracks in the mud and miles of barren wetlands."

In a typical year, upwards of 80 percent of the migratory waterfowl traveling the Pacific Flyway will use various units of the Klamath Basin refuge complex, with the majority of those individuals using Lower Klamath. But being “such a terrible year for water,” this is far from a typical year.

A request to the Bureau of Reclamation for 15,000 acre-feet of water, enough to flood 5,000 acres of the refuge’s seasonal marsh and provide habitat for upward of a half-million waterfowl, is unlikely to be fulfilled. Under the priority system governing the distribution of water in the Klamath Basin, endangered species are first in line, followed by Tribal subsistence fisheries and farmers. Only after these users receive their full allotments will any remaining water be made available for refuge use.

It seems certain that whatever water becomes available for the Lower Klamath refuge this year, it will be substantially less than what is needed to provide adequate feeding habitat for migratory waterfowl.

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