KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — The Klamath Tribes are suing federal regulators claiming they failed to keep a southern Oregon lake full enough to ensure the continued survival of sucker fish.
The tribes filed the lawsuit in federal court Wednesday calling on the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to take “immediate, emergency measures” to protect two endangered sucker fish species in the Upper Klamath Lake.
If a severe drought hits the area this summer, it could worsen the water quality and affect the fish, Tribal Chairman Don Gentry told the Herald and News.
“We’re in a very, very serious situation with our fish and unfortunately things are so dire with the projections and there’s so much at risk we’ve had to take this extreme measure to keep the fish from going extinct,” Gentry said.
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The suit claims the federal agencies have violated the Endangered Species Act through their mismanagement of the Klamath Reclamation Project and the lake.
“Where we come from as a people, these fish are our lives and our livelihood and our sustenance and our culture,” Gentry said.
Very few young fish survive to adulthood, and the current fish population is aging, tribes’ biologist Mark Buettner told Oregon Public Broadcasting. The reproductive capacity of the fish could begin to decline, making recovery of the species more difficult, he said.
“The lake levels are very important for providing habitat — water quality refuge habitat — for adult fish,” Buettner said.
The Bureau of Reclamation manages water in the Klamath Basin. A bureau spokesperson said the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but it has worked with the tribes to address the concerns.