House Votes Down Better Management for Klamath Refuges

Narrow vote shows support for real solutions to water shortages


Susan Holmes, 202-667-4500 x 204
Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500 x 213

By a 228 to 197 margin, the U.S. House of Representatives voted today to reject a proposal to improve the management of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges by limiting commercial farming on the refuge to less water intensive crops. The Klamath Basin refuges are currently the only refuges in the country where purely commercial farming is allowed.

By a narrow margin, the House voted down language that would have required that farms on the Klamath refuges whose leases expire in the next fiscal year comply with the same rules that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service applies to farming on other wildlife refuges, and reduce their use of water and toxic pesticides. The bipartisan measure was sponsored by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Christopher Shays (R-CT).

“The number of votes in favor of this amendment illustrates the support for real solutions to the problems of water shortages in the Klamath Basin,” said Susan Holmes, Senior Legislative Representative at Earthjustice. “This common sense amendment would have made an important start towards rebalancing the water equation in the Klamath Basin to benefit wildlife, fishermen, Native Americans and farmers.”

More than 20,000 acres of the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges are leased to farmers who grown onions, potatoes, horseradish, alfalfa, grass hay, and grains. Unlike other national wildlife refuges that permit farming to provide food for wildlife, some lease farming on the Klamath Refuges is done purely for commercial purposes. Under the amendment that failed today, crops that provide no benefit to wildlife, and which consume the most water and require the most pesticides, would be barred from new farming leases on the Klamath Basin’s wildlife refuges.

Commercial farms on the Klamath Refuges have repeatedly received their full water deliveries even as the refuges’ marshes are parched by a lack of water. Nearly 80 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s waterfowl, along with the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states, depend on healthy wetlands in the Klamath Basin. Water diversions for Klamath Basin farms have also been blamed for massive fish kills in the Klamath River, putting thousands of people involved in salmon fisheries out of work.

“We want to recognize the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Blumenauer, Thompson, and Shays. Their leadership helped this important amendment to garner 197 votes, and have started the process of building support for long-term solutions to reduce water consumption and ensure sustainable water use in the Klamath Basin,” said Holmes.

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