The fate of the Klamath River hangs in the balance this year. Following a poor federal water management policy that allowed the salmon population to plummet, a number of variables are coming together that ultimately may help restore the beleaguered river.
Despite this good news, some remain obstinate, preventing the Klamath's restoration from fully moving forward.
Several thousand Del Norte residents in some way depend on the Klamath. Hit hardest by the salmon population drop is the local commercial fishing industry, which lost millions in revenue as federal and state officials closed the ocean to salmon fishing. Hurt the most culturally are the poverty-stricken Yurok, for who salmon fishing is not just a way to feed themselves but is a tradition deeply entwined in their heritage and way of life. Harmed as well is local tourism, which in part relies on Klamath sportfishing to support local retailers and hotels.
The good news and opposition comes on three fronts:
Twenty-eight groups, from farmers and tribal members to fishermen and conservationists, are negotiating a settlement on how to divvy the Klamath's limited water. This likely will lead to a summit between California's and Oregon's governors to work out how to get state legislators to approve it. Unfortunately, PacifiCorp is sitting out of the talks.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this month proposed that millions be spent to restore the Klamath River, paid for with a new bond measure. Some of those dollars probably would go toward removal of PacifiCorp's dams on the river, which critics say prevent salmon from moving upriver to breed. Lawmakers would have to approve the measure so it could go to voters next year. Unfortunately, some lawmakers would rather not bond but "pay as you go," though that approach could delay the Klamath's restoration by decades.
President Bush less than two weeks ago signed a bill reauthorizing through 2013 the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The act works to end overfishing in America by 2011, uses market-based incentives to replenish fish stocks and strengthens enforcement of fishing laws. Unfortunately, some don't want the federal government to allow local fishing stocks a chance to recover, instead favoring short-term profits by being allowed to fish unhindered now.
Restoration of the Klamath's salmon population will take several years. But it can be achieved if we all cooperate now. Without that joint effort, all of us who depend upon salmon soon will find ourselves without enough of that fish to support our livelihoods or way of life.
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