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

2:18 am, Apr 21, 2024
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Local farmers lauded for helping Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Thanks to the efforts of Tulelake Irrigation District, there was no deadly botulism outbreak this summer on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Snow geese loaf on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge’s Sump 1B this spring. Image: Amelia Raquel, DU

Earlier this year, Ducks Unlimited and other wetland and waterbirds advocates were preparing for the worst: A gruesome botulism outbreak killing thousands of waterfowl and other birds on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern California.

But that dire scenario didn’t come to pass this year, thanks in large part to the efforts of one group, the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID).

This year, TID was faced with a difficult situation. Even though the Klamath Basin received an above average snowpack by early spring, the Klamath Irrigation Project’s water supply had been drastically reduced, leaving the district’s farmers with few options to water their crops during the growing season. The district also plays a key role in supplying water to Tule Lake and Lower Klamath national wildlife refuges.

The two adjacent refuges along the Oregon border have suffered from severe water shortages for years, drying out entirely in 2021 and 2022. This spring, Tule Lake refuge received only enough water to partially flood one unit, a large wetland known as Sump 1B. The fear was the sump would see a repeat of the 2020 botulism outbreak that killed more than 60,000 birds on Tule Lake.

But instead of letting that happen, TID worked throughout the hot summer months to keep water circulating in and out of Sump 1B, preventing botulism from killing the waterfowl and other birds using the sump to molt and raise their young.

At the same time, TID came up with an innovative water-use strategy that reduced the district’s overall use while still supplying farmers through the growing season. As a result, the Tule Lake subbasin’s shallow groundwater table has climbed several feet, making it easier to flood wetlands in the months to come. There’s a chance this fall and winter that the 9,000-acre Sump 1A, the largest wetland unit on Tule Lake, will flood again after being dry since 2021.

“The district’s ongoing efforts to manage a severely limited water supply in innovative and creative ways – and at a substantial cost to the district – fended off a lethal botulism outbreak that would have devastated local birds,” said Jeff McCreary, director of Ducks Unlimited’s Western Region. “There’s still a long way to go to restore Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges to their former glory as havens for millions of migratory birds, but the efforts of TID this year show what’s possible when we work together toward a wetlands-focused future for the Klamath Basin.”

“The previous three years were nothing short of devastating for Klamath Basin farmers, whose water supplies were drastically cut back through no fault of their own,” said Brad Kirby, manager of the Tulelake Irrigation District. “Yet despite the hardships they faced, TID’s farmers felt it was important to do whatever they could to preserve habitat for wildlife and prevent a devastating botulism outbreak. It is a hollow victory considering the current condition of our communities, irrigation project and refuges, but TID continues to be committed to growing the crops that feed America and supporting the Klamath Basin’s wildlife.”

“The contributions of our partners such as Tulelake Irrigation District are important in helping us maintain our wetland habitat that benefits migratory water birds on the Klamath refuges,” said Greg Austin, project leader of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Together, we will continue to seek long-term water solutions for fish, wildlife, and their habitats, tribes, agricultural producers and our communities.”

Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuges are all that are left of two huge natural lakes that were drained early last century. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside the 50,913-acre Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge as the nation’s first federal waterfowl refuge. Founded in 1928, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is 39,116 acres. Just a few decades ago, the refuges drew nearly 7 million birds each year. Bird numbers have crashed as the refuges have been cut off from water.

Ducks Unlimited continues to work with tribes, farmers, refuge staff and regulators to find common ground centered around bringing water back to the refuges and restoring wetlands in the Klamath Basin.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing wetland and grassland habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has restored or protected more than 16 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science, DU’s projects benefit waterfowl, wildlife and people in all 50 states. DU is growing its mission through a historic $3 billion Conservation For A Continent capital campaign. Learn more at

Media Contact:
Ryan Sabalow, Western Region – Communications Coordinator
(916) 805-1210

Reprint from Ducks Unlimited.
Original article, October 30, 2023:

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