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

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12:51 am, Apr 21, 2024
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Renaissance Tour focuses on refuges and collaboration

In light of Winter Wings cancelation, groups unite to over water, wildlife, and hope.

News of the 2024 Winter Wings Festival cancellation spread through the Klamath Basin like the wind over the barren lakebed of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

Known as the nation’s oldest birding festival, Winter Wings provided a bright spot in the Klamath Basin winter for decades. The workshops brought birders and tourists to our community. The chance to see a variety of raptors and birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway also drew in photographers from all over the world.

In recent years, Winter Wings also gave Klamath agriculture a chance to share how farms provide much-needed habitat for area wildlife and critical ground on the Pacific Flyway, especially with the recent historic dewatering of two national wildlife refuges.

Phones started ringing when word spread through the birdwatching, conservation, and agricultural communities that the Winter Wings Festival had been canceled.

Scott White, manager of the Klamath Drainage District, and Joe Spendolini, Board Chair of the South Suburban Sanitary District (SSSD), discussed the impacts of the cancellation and ended with an agreement to organize a tour—a regional event to inspire and educate. Similar to a tour White had organized for the festival in previous years.

Amelia Raquel, regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited, introducing the projects the organization is working on with the US Fish & Wildlife Service for getting more water flowing to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

In a matter of weeks, White pulled together a team that included the Modoc Nation, SSSD, Ducks Unlimited, Friends of Klamath Basin Birding, the Klamath Audubon Society, and the Klamath Water Users Association to create what would become the Lower Klamath Renaissance Tour.

The Lower Klamath Renaissance Tour team’s goal was to highlight the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges (LKNWR) importance to the Basin and the collaboration needed to create water security for the nation’s first waterfowl refuge. Invitations were sent to guests at federal agencies, conservation organizations, local leaders, and Klamath Basin Tribes.

On March 7, the expeditiously organized tour left the Running Y Resort to see and discuss what could happen.

The tour centered on projects and plans that KDD, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Modoc Nation were working on to improve conditions on the refuge and increase its access to water. It traveled from the Klamath Drainage District’s F/FF pumping station through the district, down to where the Ady Canal meets Stateline, and on to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

The discussions about the history of Lower Klamath Lake, the people who lived there from time immemorial, the formation of the Klamath Irrigation Project, the creation of KDD and LKNWR, and the projects provided context for the conversations that would take place throughout the day.

A lot of those conversations, both between individuals and in the larger groups, focused on collaboration. There was a quiet acknowledgment that everyone was tied together, and
regardless of the guests were there on behalf of agriculture, fish, waterfowl, or clean water, no one would be able to succeed in their goal without the other partners succeeding in theirs.

At the Ady Canal, the Lower Klamath Renaissance Tour guests listened to representatives Greg Austin and John Vradenburg discuss getting more water to LKNWR

“Today provided lines of communication to open-up once again. It was a safe space for interested parties to speak, share ideas and share our struggles,” wrote Normajean Cummings, enrolled member of the Klamath Tribes. “It was also an opportunity to see some changes Agriculture is doing to make a difference. Learning more about the difference wetlands can make is eye awakening.”

Cummings added, “I’m afraid that drought is the new normal, and I think all our communities need to be able to come together to collaborate and find new practices. We have seen what hasn’t worked in the past, but there are some new models out there that bring me hope. I hope to remain involved in seeking solutions and community building. I also hope for more opportunities like today where we can all gather, talk, offer thoughts and ideas, and find a path forward that will benefit us all. Opportunities to learn from one another.”

Karuk Tribe Council Member Troy Hockaday’s takeaway of the discussions, “Today was amazing to hear from the farmers and the government and the fisheries people about the problems in the basin. I came out of the day that we all have the same mindset to make the Basin better for everybody and a quality of water for the fish and habitat, I hope some of discussions that we talked about will help with further future programs and projects in the basin, to help water control for the Klamath river base.

“Five to six years ago, we couldn’t get a meeting with anyone from the Tribes, and today we had folks from the Modoc Nation, Karuk, and the Klamath Tribes come to this meeting,” said Bill Walker, board president of the Klamath Drainage District. “I feel strongly that we can fix the problems we’re all facing because we’re all working together. I can’t thank everyone enough for coming and getting the doors open. We need to get together again and keep this momentum moving.”

Ken Sandusky, Resource and Development Director, talked about the Shapa’sh Landscape Restoration Project with Modoc Nation Chief Robert Burkeybile, Council Member Braxton Graham , and Homelands Manager Brian Herbert.

The day was successful from the point of view of bringing together partners from a variety of backgrounds, interests, and needs, and to get them talking. However, the Lower Klamath Renaissance Tour serves as a starting point for bringing water security to the Lower Klamath refuge and other initiatives for the Klamath Basin. Whether it’s KDD’s Replumbing the Klamath plan, SSSD’s wastewater treatment facility to provide water to the refuge, Ducks Unlimited’s highline canal and pumping station for LKNWR, or the Modoc Nation and Modoc National Forest’s Shapa’sh Landscape Restoration Project, more hard conversations and collaboration will be needed.

And hopefully, the spirit of collaboration we saw on March 7 will continue to push the momentum forward on these projects and more for the future of all creatures that are dependent on the Klamath watershed.

A sampling of Upper Klamath Basin restoration projects.

Cover image: At KDD’s F/FF Pumping Station just off Hwy 97, Dr. Karl Wenner discussed the Tule Smoke Club’s importance to the Lower Klamath Region as well as the Modoc people who lived there. Also known informally as the Rat Club, this land is the only untouched portion of the original Lower Klamath Lake.

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Written by Darcy Hill, Klamath Drainage District

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