2001 Scorecard Vote
The unique Klamath basin ecosystem of northern California and southern Oregon has been called a "Western Everglades" because of the great diversity and abundance of its wildlife. The six national wildlife refuges in the area provide essential wetlands habitat for the largest winter concentration of bald eagles in the contiguous United States and for 80 percent of the birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway.
That wildlife, however, is threatened by the federal government's massive Klamath Irrigation Project, which dams the region's rivers, drains wetlands, and diverts large amounts of water for irrigation. The effects of this water diversion have been particularly severe on the region's fish populations. The Klamath River was once the third largest producer of commercially-fished salmon and steelhead in the United States. Today, fish stocks are a fraction of their onetime numbers, and the river's coho salmon run is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The decline of fish stocks has also harmed California's Yurok, Karuk, and Hoopa Valley tribes, which hold fishing rights in the basin, and has led to the loss of 4,000 jobs in commercial fishing and related industries.
In addition, water diversions and agricultural pollution have led to the decline of two lake fish in the upper Klamath Basin--the Lost River sucker and the short-nosed sucker. These fish, listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, are a historically important food source for Oregon's Klamath tribes. A 2001 Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion requires minimum water levels in the upper basin lakes to prevent the further decline of these fish.
The conflicts over the Klamath River's limited water supply came to a head in 2001, when a federal judge determined that the impact of water diversions on the threatened coho salmon violated the Endangered Species Act. The court ordered the Bureau of Reclamation to stop making irrigation deliveries to farmers until it had completed a plan, in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, to ensure that coho salmon and their habitat would not be harmed by the water diversion. The Bureau of Reclamation wrote and adopted a plan to ensure water for the fish; however, a severe drought in the region left little water for farmers.
During Senate consideration of H.R. 2217, the Fiscal Year 2002 Interior appropriations bill, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) offered an amendment that would have rolled back Endangered Species Act protections for the coho salmon and for the endangered lake fish in the Klamath Basin by requiring a return to water flows that would not meet the needs of the fish. The amendment would have overridden biological opinions issued by both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and would have had a devastating impact on wildlife throughout the region.
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a motion to table (or kill) the Smith amendment. On July 12, 2001, Senate approved the Reid motion by a vote of 52-48 (Senate roll call vote 232). YES is the pro-environment vote. The Interior appropriations conference report passed both the House and Senate in October and was signed by the President in November.