Klamath NWR Is Dying: Take Action to Restore Water to the Refuge

The Klamath National Wildlife Refuges are some of the most important refuges for migratory birds in the Western United States. Today they should be full of water and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Instead Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges are dry, dusty, barren expanses. There is no water to be found and birds are few and far between. At the peak of migration, the refuges are virtually silent. 

A photo of dry cracked land that used to be a wetlands.
Photo by Bob Sallinger

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the Klamath Basin – a vast complex of streams, marshes and lakes along the Oregon-California border – hosted tens of millions of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds each spring and fall. The region was impressive enough to earn the nickname “the Everglades of the West,” and in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt officially designated the Lower Klamath as the nation’s first national waterfowl refuge.

If we want to save the Klamath, the Federal government must act now. 

Take Action

  • Use the sample letter below to urge the U.S. Department of the Interior to prioritize these areas of hemispheric importance to migrating birds and restore flows to Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges.
  • Send your letter to the following link: https://www.doi.gov/contact-us

This year, for the first time in history, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, along with the nearby Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, is completely dry, victim to persistent drought and too many claims on the region’s diminishing water resources. Last fall, a region that even now should host up to nearly 2,000,000 (two million) birds during peak migration – including up to 80 percent of waterfowl migrating along the Pacific Flyway – saw just over 43,000.

To the south, California has already lost 90 percent of its historic wetlands to development. Without federal intervention, this expansive oasis for migrating birds will become a sterile dust flat.

Our bird populations are already under tremendous stress. We know the bird populations in North America have declined by nearly 3 billion birds over the last 50 years. The loss of some of the most important wetlands in the Western United States has catastrophic implications for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.   

The water challenges in the Klamath are complex but too often decision-makers have focused on the needs of federally listed fish populations and salmon while neglecting the needs of the refuges. It is critical that decision-makers hear from people concerned about wildlife that any solutions advanced in the Klamath must integrate the needs of the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. There is no Plan B for our wild birds. Birds have been using the  Klamath wetlands  for milenia on their annual migrations—there must be adequate water to support their survival needs as they pass through. 

Sample Letter

Dear Secretary Haaland,

I’m writing to you to draw your attention to and voice my support for prioritizing water deliveries to the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges.

For the first time in history, due to years of persistent drought and a century of overallocation of water resources, the Klamath Basin Refuges at Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake are completely dry. Once a broad expanse of wetlands providing a crucial stopover for tens of millions of migrating waterfowl and other birds, Klamath refuges last fall hosted an estimated total of just over 43,000 waterfowl. Today, at the peak of migration there should be water to the horizon and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Instead it is a dry, dusty barren expanse. There is no water to be found and birds are few and far between.l

The Klamath refuges are last in line for water, and increasing amounts of water are being withheld from the refuge – while this area turns into a desert.

Tule and Lower Klamath refuges are not only critical for migrating birds. They also provide essential spring and summer nesting habitat for waterfowl and a wide array of waterbirds, such as White-faced Ibis and American White Pelican, as well as many other species of herons, egrets, cormorants, and gulls. In all, the refuge provides habitat for 25 species of special concern listed as threatened or sensitive by California and Oregon. Unless water flows return to the refuges, the impact to avian populations along the entire Pacific Flyway, from South America to the Arctic, will be catastrophic.

I’m requesting that you, as Secretary of the Interior, identify and direct funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal funding sources towards habitat improvements and ecosystem restoration projects along with the acquisition of water rights to ensure water flows to these vital refuges. We need immediate and long-term solutions to address and mitigate this crisis.   


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