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The National Wildlife Refuges in the Upper Klamath Basin are some of the most important in the country for migrating waterfowl.

The Klamath wildlife refuges are also the home of the largest population of American bald eagles still remaining in the lower 48 states.
Even though greatly diminished from its original extent, the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges are still the home to many species, including a large colony of pelicans, a species now slowly recovering from near extinction (click to expand).
Abundant wildlife and a wide diversity of species distinguishes the wildlife refuges when they are given the water they need. Unfortunately this is increasingly rare as they lose more water in competition with federally subsidized irrigation in the Klamath Irrigation Project.

In addition to the massive federal Klamath Irrigation Project, the Upper Klamath Basin is the home to some of the oldest and most important national wildlife refuges in the U.S. These refuges are used by almost 90% of all migrating western North American waterfowl using the Pacific Flyway, are the home to the largest population of bald eagles still existing in the U.S. outside of Alaska, and are the overwintering and breeding grounds for other bird species in great abundance. Most of these birds are supposed to be federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and by international migratory bird protection treaty agreements with Canada and Mexico.

Yet this tremendous public resource is continually threatened by overallocation of scarce Upper Basin water to commerical agriculture. Nearly every year, major portions of these national wildlife refuges are deliberately dewatered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to feed the irrigation demands of its overblown federal water project. In 2003, for instance, the volume of water that BOR is going to allow to flow to the refuges is the lowest in at least 41 years.

The BOR also allows commercial row-crop farming on 23,000 acres of wildlife refuge lands, complete with the use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals known to kill both birds and fish.

The BOR also holds the water flowing into the refuges hostage, by insisting that the refuges get only irrigation return flows (which are often highly polluted), even though the agency could chose to provide cleaner water to the refuges directly at any time by opening just two floodgates.

Figure 1: Nesting Pelicans in Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge need protected wetlands islands to protect their chicks.

Figure 2: Pelican nesting areas at Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge are frequently dewatered by Klamath Project irrigation diversions, exposing nestlings to predators and destroying habitat (click to expand).

Figure 3: This is your Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in most years. The water has gone instead to nearby commerical farms, some of them actually on the national wildlife refuge itself. In most years now, the wildlife refuges are seriously dewatered and millions of birds perish (click to expand).

Figure 4: Your Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, looking north. Klamath Project irrigators received full water deliveries in 2002, but all of Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge was once again left high and dry for the onset of fall waterfowl migration (click to expand).

For more background information see the Feb/March 2003 National Wildlife magazine article:
Troubled Waters: Diking, Damming, Pollution and Competing Uses Threaten the 'Lifeblood' of the National Wildlife Refuge System

The Klamath Basin Coalition
PO Box 1375
Eugene, OR 97440
Ph (541)689-2000


Photos on this page courtesy of Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC). For more ONRC Klamath National Wildlife Refuge pictures click here.

© 2003 The Klamath Basin Coalition | Last update: 5/20/03