Seeking Protection For Klamath Salmon
As Klamath salmon populations continue to struggle to survive, the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild, Environmental Protection Information Center and Larch Company filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service yesterday, to protect Klamath River chinook salmon in northern California and southern Oregon under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"Wild chinook salmon in the Klamath have been devastated by a century of habitat destruction and need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Dams, water withdrawals, logging, hatcheries and now disease and climate change are driving the Klamath's chinook salmon toward extinction."
The petition seeks protection first and foremost for spring-run chinook, once the most abundant run of Klamath chinook, now near extinction in its last remaining stronghold. Biologists now count just 300 to 3,000 wild-spawning spring chinook each year. These fish are marvels of evolution, living most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean only to return to the river in the spring with enough fat reserves to survive without eating until early fall when it's time for them to spawn. They have long been prized as one of the best-tasting salmon species and historically the most economically important Klamath fish.
"The spring-run chinook have become the Klamath's sad little secret," said Ani Kame'enui, a Klamath wildlife advocate with Oregon Wild. "Everyone from fisheries biologists to local anglers knows that springers are suffering, but we often turn a blind eye. The protections sought in this petition are about finally doing something to stop the bleeding."
The Klamath Basin was once the third-largest producer of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast, but now produces fewer and fewer wild fish as a result of dams, habitat degradation and other factors. Overall, at least 300 miles of spawning habitat in the Klamath Basin have been made inaccessible by dams. Because of declines in the overall numbers of returning wild chinook, the petition also asks the Fisheries Service to consider protecting wild fall-run chinook.
"The Klamath River Basin and the salmon it supports are a national treasure," said Scott Greacen, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. "So far, federal agencies have managed spring-run chinook in the Klamath by ignoring them. Plans for the restoration of the Klamath need to put spring chinook recovery front and center."
Recent river management has exacerbated the chinook's plight. In the fall of 2002, Klamath River chinook suffered one of the worst fish kills in Northwest history when as many as 70,000 adult salmon died before spawning. Excessive water withdrawals, primarily from the federally run Klamath Irrigation Project, resulted in low flows and warm water temperatures that allowed disease to develop and spread quickly. Continued low flows and warm temperatures are key drivers of an ongoing disease crisis in the river that has sharply reduced survival of juvenile wild fish on their way to the ocean.