Can we restore the Refuges?
These two national wildlife refuges were once Crown Jewels of the refuge system in the U.S. Today they are mostly dry wastelands with the last of their water scheduled to be removed later this year. For decades, millions of migrating Pacific Flyway birds rested, fed and nested on their journeys. Now a drastically reduced number of birds that come through either can't find water and feed, much less places to rest and build nests....and often die from botulism from the shallow waters that are left.
It is an environmental and national tragedy which breaks the
hearts of all of us who love Klamath Basin birds.
Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
A habitat update posted to Facebook by the refuges on March 7, 2022:
Klamath Basin Refuges
March 7, 2022
TULE LAKE & LOWER KLAMATH NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE HABITAT UPDATE
In late February, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge received approximately 456-acre feet of water, which went to unit 2. This water has flooded some wetland foods and is attracting quite a few birds. However, that's all that's flooded right now aside from the leased agricultural land on the Oregon section of the refuge. Early in September of 2021, Lower Klamath began receiving an approved water right transfer from the Wood River Valley, delivering a total of 280-acre feet to Lower Klamath.
Between March of 2021 and March of 2022 the total water deliveries to Lower Klamath has been approximately 736-acre feet, less than ~1% of the water needed to support the establishing purposes of the refuge.
A delivery of 10,000-acre feet of water was made available for Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in August 2021, this did help the elevation of sump 1B and prevented loss of endangered sucker species as well as mitigated conditions that may have prompted a botulism outbreak. Outside of this delivery there has been no water made available to Tule Lake since fall of 2020 resulting in the drying of Sump 1A. Currently, there are no deliveries being considered for Tule Lake this year and it is anticipated that sump 1B will go dry this summer.
Peak waterfowl numbers for both fall 2021 and spring 2022 represent ~1% of numbers seen on the refuges just a few decades ago.
We anticipate there will be no wetland or flooded habitat on the almost 90,000 acres of refuge land set aside specifically for the protection of migratory waterbirds. We anticipate a complete loss of all nesting opportunities, no wetland management to promote food production for the fall, and potentially no fall flooding again in 2022 which would mark the third consecutive year of limited to no wetland habitat on both refuges.
Based on water availability outlooks for the Central Valley this year and the greater Southern Oregon and North Eastern California area there will be almost no habitat for local nesting birds and molting birds. What that impact may be on continental populations is uncertain but for Southern Oregon, North Eastern CA, and Central Valley populations it is safe to assume that we are going to start seeing significant population declines.
The reasons are complex. The solutions are not going to be easy.
Climate change plus over allocation of resources since the first of the last century has changed the amount of water available
to all who live in the Klamath Basin...maybe forever. People are confused, sad, angry that life has changed so much....and worried sick,
not just about the birds, but their livelihoods. We understand.
When water was plentiful, priorities were set and laws were written that put the refuges at the bottom of the pecking order. No one ever dreamed that the results would be so devastating. Now there isn't enough water for anybody who lives here or the birds.
Tribes up and down the river are trying to save endangered fish, ranchers and farmers are trying to grow their crops and take
care of their animals, ocean fisherman want to save the salmon, ecosystems are no longer healthy, wetlands have been destroyed, and communities are struggling to manage all these incredibly difficult problems.
No one has a solution yet, but it is important to remember these are all ... ALL ... good people who didn't intend for any of this to happen.
Restoring the Lower Klamath and Tulelake Lake Wildlife Refuges is incredibly important and a moral imperative.
That said, the solutions need to work as much as possible for everyone.
We invite others to contribute their thoughts and fresh perspectives, too.
To read the special series by the Klamath Herald and News about the water crisis go here:
To learn more about the photographer who is credited with getting the refuges designated, go here:
To see a beautiful visual presentation on the history of the refuges, go here:
A March 11, 2022 Audubon Society Article about the refuges: