By Laura Brown

Triplicate staff writer

Del Norte and Humboldt counties are asking Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to appeal a judge's decision that could pose harm to Trinity and Klamath River fish.

andquot;It's a fiasco. These judges are next to God when it comes to making these decisions,andquot; said David Finigan, chairman of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors.

In identical letters, the neighboring counties ask Norton to appeal Judge Oliver Wanger's December ruling that fragmented a decision promising to return 47 percent of the Trinity River's flow. The water has been diverted for agriculture in California's Central Valley as well as hydroelectric power since the mid-1960s.

In the ruling, the judge gave the federal defendants 120 days to complete studies analyzing the impacts shifting water diversions would have on Sacramento Basin fish species as well as current power-generating operations. The counties note in their letter that andquot;Wanger's action preempts years of well-planned data collection and scientific evaluation.andquot;

The Hoopa Valley Tribe, interveners in the case, say that Wanger's timeline is insufficient and have already filed an appeal. The Bureau of Reclamation is scrambling to put together the reports.

Last September 33,000 adult salmon died on the lower Klamath, 70 percent of which were Trinity-bound fish. Some say releasing more water from reservoirs on the Trinity could have prevented the disaster. Because of litigation, Central Valley agriculture continued to get deliveries while the Trinity flow remained a trickle.

The letter not only mentions the 2002 fish-kill but also the loss of andquot;200,000 downstream migrating babies during the late spring of 2000.andquot; Economic losses to tribes, recreational and commercial fishermen are also mentioned.

Last month Del Norte County supervisors announced their unanimous decision to join fishing groups and tribes in a lawsuit challenging management decisions on the Klamath River after originally opting not to join.

andquot;It's a frenzy out there trying to find out who's in charge and where solutions lie,andquot; said Finigan.

A public meeting of the Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19 at the Best Western Beachfront Inn in Brookings, Ore. The meeting will continue the following day from 8 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

Representatives from state and federal agencies, four counties, and four Indian tribes will attend. The task force was established nearly 20 years ago in efforts to restore fisheries on the Klamath River. Funds will run out in 2005.

Topics on the agenda include the status of green sturgeon and Pacific lamprey petitions, updates on anadromous fishery restoration efforts, status of Klamath hydropower relicensing and news on the Barnes Ranch Water Storage Project near Upper Klamath Lake.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Neil Manji of state Fish and Game and George Guillen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will discuss investigation results of the Klamath River fish-kill.