Klamath Advocates Go To Court Over Wildlife Mismanagement

Conservation Groups Ask Federal Court to Require US Fish and Wildlife Service to Obey the Law, Complete Long-Overdue Comprehensive Conservation Plan


Today, three conservation groups – Bird Alliance of Oregon, Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon – filed litigation in Federal Court to compel the US Fish and Wildlife Service to produce a much-needed and long-overdue Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The plan, required by law, is now 18 months past the federally mandated deadline.

“The Klamath Refuges are some of the most important bird habitat in the Western United States,” said Bird Alliance of Oregon Conservation Director Bob Sallinger. “There is absolutely no basis for failing to meet the requirements of the Improvement Act and provide the public with a roadmap of how these critically important wetlands are going to be protected and restored.”

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 requires that the US Fish and Wildlife Service develop and implement a “comprehensive conservation plan” (CCP) for each unit within the national wildlife refuge system. The CCP describes desired future conditions and provides long-range guidance and management direction to achieve the purposes of the refuge and ensure commercial activities on refuge lands do not undermine wildlife conservation. The Improvement Act set a deadline of October 9, 2012 for the completion of all CCPs. While the vast majority of refuges in the United States have met this requirement, five Klamath Refuges still have not released a draft or provided a timeline for when this will occur.

“We are simply asking that the US Fish and Wildlife Service obey the law,” said Sean Stevens, Executive Director of Oregon Wild. “The agency is legally required to have a plan to prevent commercial activities, like leasing refuge lands to private agribusiness, from harming fish and wildlife. We simply want them to do their job.”

While there have been notable recent announcements in regards to a water deal between The Klamath Tribes and upper basin ranchers, these agreements do not address the failure of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to obey the law and develop a CCP, nor do they resolve the ongoing water crisis facing the refuges.

The Klamath Basin refuges’ wetlands represent some of the most important waterfowl habitat in the United States. An estimated 80 percent of Pacific Flyway waterfowl utilize the wetlands during their migratory journeys and more than 260 species of birds have been observed on the refuges.

The Klamath Wetland Complex once encompassed more than 350,000 acres but today it has been reduced to 80,000 acres to make way for commercial agriculture. In addition more than 22,000 refuge acres are leased for commercial agriculture, displacing essential wildlife habitat. In recent years, federal water management decisions and drought have resulted in Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge frequently going completely dry during the critical spring and fall migratory periods. These conditions helped spark massive waterfowl die-offs from avian cholera in 2012 and botulism in 2013. Governor Kitzhaber has already declared 2014 to be another drought year, and the federal government has announced plans to again cut water for wildlife while preserving full deliveries for agribusiness operations on refuge lands.

“Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is one of the nation’s most important habitats for migratory waterfowl, but current federal management means parched wetlands and massive disease outbreaks have become the norm here,” said Jim McCarthy, Southern Oregon Program Manager for WaterWatch of Oregon. “It is long past time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a proactive long range management plan that meets the refuges’ primary purposes of protecting waterfowl and other wildlife.”

Plaintiffs allege that the Improvement Act includes a mandatory, non-discretionary deadline that has already passed for producing a CCP. The plaintiffs ask the court to provide injunctive relief compelling the refuges to produce a CCP by a date certain, at the earliest possible time.

“Refuges across the United States complied long ago with this important and necessary planning process,” added WaterWatch’s Jim McCarthy. “It is especially important that the Klamath Refuges meet this mandate given their critical importance to wildlife and the complex challenges that these particular refuges face.”

The Plaintiffs are represented by Attorney Chris Winter at the Crag Law Center, a public interest environmental law firm based in Portland, Oregon and Quinn Read at Oregon Wild.

Media Contacts

  • Bob Sallinger, Bird Alliance of Oregon | 503-292-6855
  • Quinn Read, Oregon Wild | 503-283-6342 (x226)
  • Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon | 541-708-0731

Founded in 1902, Bird Alliance of Oregon is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. It promotes the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats through its conservation and environmental education programs, its 150-acre Nature Sanctuary and Nature Store in northwest Portland, and its Wildlife Care Center.

For more information, call 503-292-6855 or visit birdallianceoregon.org.