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Over 70 Years of Representing the Farmers and Ranchers of Klamath Project

2:43 pm, Apr 20, 2024
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ESA Symposium draws crowd to hear experts

On March 11, 2024, Klamath Irrigation District hosted a panel of experts from across the United States to discuss elements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The expert panel included Dr. Katherine Wright, Senior Research with PERC; Dr. Daniel Bigelow, OSU Department of Applied Economics; Mike Brennan, former USFWS attorney; Lucas Cooksey, Texas A&M NRI; Chris Beck, NEPA expert; and Mike Britton, Executive Manager at North Unit Irrigation District.

For much of the day, each panelist had an opportunity to speak on their field before collectively fielding questions from the symposium attendees.

Approximately 100 people attended either in person or virtually.

Symposium attendees included staffers from the U.S. Congressional offices Cliff Bentz (OR-2 R) and Doug LaMalfa (CA-1 R) alongside members of the Klamath Tribes, representatives of the Modoc Nation, agency employees, representatives from local irrigation districts, one candidate for Klamath County Sherriff (Daren Krag) and one candidate for Klamath County Commissioner Position 1 (Moss Driscoll). Many others interested in learning more about the ESA were also in attendance.

Dr. Wright provided a great recap of the recovery of species protected by the ESA for the past 50 years.  Her research indicates only 3% of the listed species have recovered.  The data Dr. Wright has reviewed indicates incentives are needed to promote collaboration, and local involvement is critical for successful recovery programs.

Despite heavy regulation, the ESA has yet to achieve species recovery in the Klamath Basin over the past 30 years. Collaborative solutions that support both species and community prosperity are needed.

As a former attorney for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Brennan provided a master’ s-level analysis of Section 7 of the ESA.

“Mr. Brennen also guided us in managing our exposure to the ESA,” said Gene Souza, manager of Klamath Irrigation District and organizer of the symposium. “He explained how we need to be engaged rather than reactive. We need to get in front of the listing of new species and promote conservation opportunities that help us when they present themselves.”

Cooksey provided solid examples of how the Department of Defense approaches ESA issues with other federal agencies.  He informed the audience of numerous success stories where the DOD can achieve its mission and work with agencies to identify ways to mitigate the jeopardy of listed species on essential national security training grounds.

Britton with North Unit Irrigation District provided the on-the-ground perspective on implementing Section 10 Habitat Conservation Plan in parallel with Reclamation’s Section 7 process.

“The takeaway is that the process is not easy, and there are numerous hurdles,” explained Souza. “The first hurdle is convincing the federal agency to agree to let the irrigation districts and private parties take leadership over the solution.”

Other speakers included Dr. Bigelow, who provided information about the economics of conservation easements, and Mr. Beck, who briefly discussed the NEPA process.

During the panel discussion, the group focused on the frustration that continuous ESA Section 7 consultations are not leading to species recovery, that agency culture is shifting away from practical experience, and that many Non-Governmental Organizations are rarely neutral third parties.

However, the panel was clear in their message, “Don’t give up – stay engaged, ask questions, find collaborative solutions.”

What are the next steps the ESA Section 7 cycle of failure in the Klamath Basin?

“We need a vision for the Klamath Basin’s future and analyze whether that vision is possible with the current ESA approach,” concluded Souza. “If Section 7 is not recovering species, it is not helping our communities, economies, families, or ecosystem; perhaps Section 10 Habitat Conservation Planning is a viable option. What opportunities exist to move from being heavily regulated to a place where incentives can result in species recovery?”

Cover image: Dr. Katherine Wright provided a recap of the recovery of species protected by the ESA for the past 50 years.  Her research indicates only 3% of the listed species have recovered. Photo by Brian Gailey.

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