By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
The decision that led to the death of 33,000 salmon in the Klamath River last year was made to help an Oregon Republican Senator get re-elected, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A story printed in that newspaper yesterday said Karl Rove, a top political strategist for President George Bush, pressured U.S. Department of Interior heads to ignore scientific recommendations and release more water to Klamath Falls' Republican farmers despite the threat of low water flows for lower river salmon.
"The largest fish-kill in America's history could have, and should have, been avoided if it were not for the political pressure put on scientists by administration officials looking for political gain," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) yesterday after reading the story.
Outlining several meetings between Rove, Department of Interior head Gale Norton, Sen. Gordon Smith and top Bush Cabinet members, the story said Rove drove a plan to make the farmers happy to help Smith get re-elected.
Making the farmers happy likely curried favor for the Republican Bush as well, the story indicated.
"In a darkened conference room, White House political strategist Karl Rove was making an unusual address to 50 top managers at the U.S. Interior Department. Flashing color slides, he spoke of poll results, critical constituencies and water levels to the Klamath River basin," the Post story said.
"At the time of the meeting, in January 2002, Mr. Rove had just returned from accompanying President Bush on a trip to Oregon, where they visited with a Republican senator facing re-election. Republican leaders there wanted to support their agricultural base by diverting water from the river basin to nearby farms, and Mr. Rove signaled that the administration did, too.
"Three months later, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stood with Sen. Gordon Smith in Klamath Falls and opened the irritation-system headgates that increased the water supply to 220,000 acres of farmland a policy shift that continues to stir bitter criticism from environmentalists and Indian tribes," said the story written by Tom Hamburger.
Water flows to the lower Klamath were not increased this year after the gates were opened for farmers in 2002, despite pleadings by the Yurok Tribe and its chairperson Sue Masten, that the tribe was given senior water rights by the Federal Government in a treaty.
Further evidence of the back- room finagling was outlined in the story, which said a biologist for National Marine Fisheries Service, Michael Kelly, recently asked for protection under federal whistle-blower laws.
Kelly said "he was subjected to political pressure to go along with the low-water plan and ordered to ignore scientific evidence casting doubt on the plan," according to the story.
"Today's Wall Street Journal sheds further light on what we have known all along that sound science was ignored in allowing dangerously low water levels in the Lower Klamath Basin," Thompson said yesterday.