Tribal bias charged in Klamath dispute
Facebook Twitter Email

An angry Congressman on Wednesday blasted the Department of Interior for being biased in favor of tribes when officials decided last year to deny water to non-Indian farmers in the Klamath Basin.

At a House Resources Committee hearing, Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) criticized the department for basing the shut-off on what he called bad science. Citing an independent review ordered by Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, he said great economic harm was caused to thousands of people on the Oregon-California border.

"The National Academy of Sciences," he said in citing the report, "clearly tells us that [the decision] is clearly not based on sound science."

Herger specifically laid blame on a scientist he said was hired to bolster the water and treaty rights claims of tribes in the region. Calling a study by Dr. Tom Hardy of Utah State University flawed, he said the Office of the Solicitor within the Interior guided the outcome of the process.

"It appears to us the work was directed to a great degree by the branch of the solicitor's office representing the Bureau of Indian Affairs, thus advocating the position of one group in the basin," he said.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the deputy chief of staff to Norton, didn't respond directly to the charges of conflict of interest. She acknowledged Hardy's work generated "a lot of complaints" and promised to provide information about his work on the issue.

But Wooldridge pointed out the natural conflicts that have characterized the water battle over the years. Although she repeatedly stated that the water rights of tribes have not been "quantified," she noted the courts have upheld treaties guaranteeing access to the precious resource.

With no tribal views present at the hearing, however, that side of the argument appeared lost among the battle that has largely been characterized as fish against farmers. Democrats on the panel pointed out that the Republican leadership rejected a request to invite representatives of the Klamath Tribes of Oregon and the Yurok Tribe of California to the hearing.

In an interview from his Oregon office, Klamath chairman Allen Foreman lamented the lack of tribal participation. "Obviously the tribes need to be part of anything pertaining to the basin," he said.

He also discounted the opposition to Hardy's work. Scientists who have worked with the NAS panel assigned to the issue are hired guns of farmers, he said.

And despite a recent court ruling in favor of a treaty signed by the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes, Foreman said it will take years for the state of Oregon to sort out the rights involved. "We've had young people that have never been able to enjoy this tradition of fishing," he said.

"We've been without our resources for 18 years," he continued. "They've [farmers] been without for one year. There's an inequity there."

In an appearance on C-SPAN yesterday, Norton all but guaranteed the farmers would receive water this year in part due to an increased supply. While acknowledging tribal rights, she also said non-Indians who were invited to the basin in the 1950s have an "expectation" of access to water.

Related Documents:
Written Hearing Testimony (3/13) | Statement by Rep. Rahall (3/13) | Herger Opening Statement (3/13) | MP3: Herger on Bias (3/13) | 2002 Biological Assessment (BA) for the Klamath Project (2/25) | Scientific Evaluation of Biological Opinions on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin: Interim Report (2/6)

Relevant Links:
Resource Allocation in the Klamath Basin: An Assessment of Natural Resource, Economic, Social, and Institutional Issues -
Klamath Tribes -
Klamath Basin in Crisis -

Related Stories:
Klamath panel criticized for report (3/8)
Non-Indian farmers due water (2/28)
Klamath Tribes blast fish report (2/22)
Klamath chairman debates USA Today(2/11)
Interim Klamath report online (2/7)
Anti-Indian group files Klamath suit (2/6)
Klamath report being evaluated (2/5)
Report questions Klamath decision (2/4)
Norton wants water for non-Indians (1/29)
Racism and the Klamath basin war (1/16)
Eagles returning to Klamath refuge (1/15)
Who is Gale Norton? (1/14)
Bush pledges help for Klamath farmers (1/7)
Tribes 'terrorized' by white men (12/20)
Klamath water dispute subject of review (11/6)
Klamath farmers file new lawsuit (10/12)
Meeting held over Klamath water (9/27)
Denying farmers water was right, says tribe (9/5)
Klamath protesters stage barbecue (8/30)
Calm as water shut off in Oregon (8/24)
Klamath farmers prepare for water shut-off (8/23)
Protest held over Klamath water (8/22)
Klamath water war continues (8/14)
Norton asks for review of Klamath decision (8/2)
Violence feared among Klamath farmers (7/27)
Norton releases water for angry farmers (7/25)
Ore. farmers seek water diversion (7/20)
Court upholds sacred site protection (9/12)
Norton won't convene 'God squad' (7/16)
Ore. town helps feisty farmers (7/12)
Authorities let farmers break law (7/9)
Farmers break into Ore. canal (7/6)
Farmers protest water for tribes, fish (5/8)
Water use upheld for tribes, salmon (5/1)
Tribes, groups discuss water project (4/24)
Klamath steelhead proposed as threatened (2/21)