The cultural, spiritual and economic health of the Klamath Tribes is inextricably linked to the health of C’waam and Koptu fish populations. Once the most important food-fish in the Upper Klamath Lake region, they were caught by the thousands as a mainstay of the Klamath Tribes’ diet. Now endangered, the Tribes’ are limited to harvesting just two fish every year for ceremonial purposes.
The collapse of our C’waam and Koptu fisheries has marched virtually in lock-step with the declining health of Upper Klamath Lake, the largest body of freshwater west of the Rocky Mountains. Chronically low water levels in the lake regularly cut off access to spawning and rearing habitat and starve fish of oxygen as annual blooms of toxic algae decompose. One type of algae common in the lake produces toxins harmful to fish and people, forcing Oregon officials to post health warnings against swimming in the lake. Boating, birding, wildlife watching, paddling, fishing and economically-valuable tourism are other casualties of a dying lake. A local sportswriter wrote in the Klamath Herald and News “Outside of the springtime, I avoid the lake like the plague.”
The solution to healing the lake is more balanced management of water resources. Water scarcity is a fact of life in arid regions like the Klamath Basin, but endless conflict over water doesn’t have to be. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress recently failed to approve The Klamath Basin Restoration Act (KBRA) a water sharing agreement hammered out by Tribes, irrigators, fishermen, conservationists and people from all corners of the Klamath Basin.
The status quo of water management merely seeks to keep C’waam and Koptu from going extinct. Setting out to keep our sacred fish and Upper Klamath Lake on life support isn’t good enough. We have to do better.
That’s why the Klamath Tribes’ have filed a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act, to require water level management in Upper Klamath Lake to benefit C’waam and Koptu. We have taken our cause to the courts reluctantly as a last resort – the only option we felt was left to us to address the water and fish emergency in the lake, made all the more urgent in the face of impending
drought this summer.
We recognize that fighting out differences in the courts is not the best way to achieve outcomes that solve the problems for people and fish in the Klamath Basin. However, if reason and conversation does not work to solve the problem, then we must take the next step – in this case, legal action.
Ultimately, we want to see our fish thrive and once again support sustainable fisheries as a cornerstone of our plan to restore economic self-sufficiency for the Klamath Tribes. We continue to work for restoration of all that was taken away from us in the 1950s when the U.S. Government terminated our Tribal status.
After decades of fighting for our way of life, the Klamath Tribes’ status was restored in 1986, but coming back from the loss of cultural and spiritual identity and economic self-sufficiency remains a long journey. We still see the devastating legacy of termination every day.
We seek full restoration of our treaty rights to the natural resources on our ancestral lands: to hunt deer, elk and antelope, gather plants and to fish for C’waam and Koptu for food and ceremonial purposes.
Our creation story tells us that if the C’waam go away, the people go away.
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