Tribes in northern California take action to protect salmon runs

Fish continue to die in the Klamath River basin in northern California. Photo by Vivienna Orcutt

Two northern California tribes have put the Obama administration on notice as runs of salmon continue to fall in the Klamath River basin.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Yurok Tribe each filed notices of intent to sue the Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries. They say the two federal agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act and causing salmon runs to dwindle even further.

“We cannot stand by and do nothing while our salmon hover over the brink of extinction,” Yurok Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., said in a press release on Friday. “We will not continue to watch water managers jeopardize the fate of our fish and our river.”

The Yurok Tribe just submitted its 60-day notice to sue while the Hoopa Valley Tribe took action a little over a month ago. The tribes have dealt with back-to-back years of fish disease outbreaks and this year's runs are shaping up to be some of the worst on record.

"The juvenile fish kills in 2014 and 2015, while not as noticeable to the naked eye as dead adults on the banks, are as devastating to Hupa people as the 2002 adult fish kill," said , referring to the year in which more than 60,000 fish died, which the tribe blamed on bad federal water management policies.

The Bureau of Reclamation issued its 2016 operations plan for the Klamath Irrigation Project in April. The document explains how water will be provided for farmers in the region and how much will be released for fish.

Both tribes, however, say the plan is based on a flawed assessment of endangered salmon species in the Klamath Basin. The biological opinion at issue dates to 2013 and the tribes say they haven't been consulted about ongoing and future operations.

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