Earthjustice today agreed with the decision of the Interior Department rejecting a petition calling for the convening of the Endangered Species Committee, commonly known as the God Squad, to review Klamath Basin issues. The God Squad has the authority to allow the killing of otherwise protected species thus risking their extinction when certain conditions are met. That thresh hold has clearly not been met in this case. The Interior department decision came a day after the U.S. Senate defeated an amendment by Senator Gordon Smith R-OR that would have effectively suspended the Endangered Species Act in the Klamath Basin.
Earthjustice Executive Director Buck Parker said, "There are many ways to solve the problems in the Klamath Basin. If there's one thing Americans are for, it's reasonable compromise and balance. There is no doubt we need to move forward to adjust the balance of how water is shared in the Klamath Basin so that coastal fishing communities, tribes, farmers and fish and wildlife, all get a fair share of the water they need."
"The God Squad was never intended to be the first resort... it was intended to be the last resort," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. "Rejection of this petition recognizes that droughts happen and it's inappropriate to rollback the ESA and push a few more species into extinction every time we have a drought."
There are strong indications coming from the region that some farmers are willing to sell their land and water rights, which will help solve the problem of over allocation of the Klamath Basin's waters.
"Irrigated agriculture contributes far less than many people believe to the Klamath area's economy," said Dr. Ed Whitelaw, an Oregon economist and expert on natural resource economics. "The farm sector represents under 10 percent of Klamath County's total employment and under 1 percent of the county's total personal income. The sad fact is that agriculture in the Klamath basin has been on a long steady slide for many years, for reasons that have nothing to do with the ESA." Dr. Whitelaw added, "Rather than prolong the inevitable, it's time to help these folks make the transition to an ecologically sustainable and economically sound future."
By rejecting this petition, for the first time, the needs of coastal fishing families and Indian tribes are finally being recognized as being as important as the needs of farming families. Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's associations said, " This decision means not only that coho salmon in the Klamath will be spared from extinction but valuable king salmon that support tribal, commercial and sport fisheries won't be wiped out."