Endangered Species Coalition criticizes Norton's decision to 'de-water' wildlife refuge

The Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition criticized a July 24, 2001 decision by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to release water intended for the National Wildlife Refuges in the Klamath Basin, Oregon to an irrigation canal.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2001 -- A July 24, 2001 decision by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to release water intended for the National Wildlife Refuges in the Klamath Basin, Oregon (www.klamathnwr.org) to an irrigation canal ``is a wrong-headed attempt to placate powerful political interests at the expense of wildlife that do not have political action committees,'' said Brock Evans, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. ``The Secretary's unwarranted decision to allow a National Wildlife Refuge to dry up is not only illegal, it is also an ineffectual attempt to administer a quick-fix to a long-term problem.''

Secretary Norton's decision to release 70,000 to 75,000 acre-feet of water from a lake in the Upper Klamath Basin was made in response to pressures from agricultural interests who are objecting to a Biological Opinion issued by federal scientists last April. The Opinion determined that the only way to save critically imperiled populations of fish and birds was to maintain water levels at the 4,140-feet elevation.

By releasing water to the irrigation canals, water levels in the Upper and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges will drop to perilously low levels (below the 4,139-feet elevation). This directly violates the scientific requirements of the Biological Opinion, as well as the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In doing so, ``Norton has sent a clear message that she does not care about the environmental laws she has been entrusted to uphold,'' explained Evans.

The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states; it is also a main stop on the Pacific Flyway for millions of migratory waterfowl.

``The continued de-watering of the Refuges means the ultimate destruction of their bird populations,'' explained Leslie Catherwood, Communications Coordinator for the Endangered Species Coalition. ``The real tragedy is that the release of this water will not even help the farmers. This is a purely political and anti-environmental decision and is not, in any way, a pro-agriculture decision.''

The Endangered Species Coalition, comprised of more than 440 environmental, religious, scientific, sporting, and business organizations, works to defend and strengthen the Endangered Species Act, as well as to improve biodiversity protections in the United States. For more information, please visit www.stopextinction.org

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