The Klamath Basin is a land of teeming wildlife, expansive marshes, blue-ribbon trout streams, tremendous stretches of forests, and large ranches in southern Oregon and northern California. Known to waterfowl, songbirds, and shorebirds, the Klamath Basin's marshlands are a mecca for birds along the Pacific Flyway. This gorgeously illustrated book is a paean to the beauty of the Klamath Basin and at the same time a sophisticated environmental case study of an endangered region whose story parallels that of watershed development throughout the west.
A collaboration between two photographers and a writer, Balancing Water tells the story in words and pictures of the complex relationship between the human and natural history of this region. Spectacular images by Tupper Ansel Blake depict resident species of the area, migratory birds, and dramatic landscapes. Madeleine Graham Blake has contributed portraits of local residents, while archival photographs document the history of the area.
William Kittredge's essay on the conjunction of conflicting interests in this wildlands paradise is by turns lyrically personal and brimming with historical and scientific facts. He traces the water flowing through the Klamath Basin, the human history of the watershed, and the land-use conflicts that all touch on the availability of water. Ranchers, loggers, town settlers, Native Americans, tourists, and environmentalists are all represented in the narrative, and their diverse perspectives form a complicated web like that of the interactions among organisms in the ecosystem.
Kittredge finds hope in the endangered Klamath Basin, both in successful restoration projects recently begun there, and in the community involvement he sees as necessary for watershed restoration and biodiversity preservation. Emphasizing that we must take care of both human economies and the natural environment, he shows how the two are ultimately interconnected. The Klamath Basin can be a model for watershed restoration elsewhere in the west, as we search for creative ways of solving our intertwined ecological and social problems.
1. Otey Island/Everything is part of Everything
2. Sycan Marsh/Yamsi
3. The Marsh/The State of Klamath
4. Time Immemorial
The Klamatch Basin: The Land, the Wildlife
7. The Rewards of Tenacity
8. Inviolable Rights
9. Gridlock/Home Rule
The Klamath Basin: The People
12. Neighborhoods/Managing the Commons/Adjudicating the Future/Continuties
Tupper Ansel Blake is a photographer whose books include Tracks in the Sky: Wildlife and Wetlands of the Pacific Flyway (1987), Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas: The Natural World of the United States-Mexico Borderlands (with Peter Steinhart, California, 1994), and Wild California: Vanishing Lands, Vanishing Wildlife (with Peter Steinhart, California, 1985). Madeleine Graham Blake is an exhibiting photographer whose work has appeared at the Pasadena Art Museum, Friends of Photography, and the Monterey Art Museum, as well as other galleries and museums. William Kittredge is a former rancher and creative writing professor at the University of Montana, as well as author of Hole in the Sky: A Memoir (1992), and Who Owns the West (1996). His essays have been published in many collections, including Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape (1997). He grew up in the Klamath Basin.
“A book of unusual personality, charm, and force; it should greatly please a wide range of readers, including those sophisticated about conservation and land-use questions, and it should make even the hardest-line ranchers think some new thoughts about their future strategies."—Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia
“What a grand collaboration: Kittredge’s words and the Blakes’ images take us to the soul of the Klamath Country, at once a magnificent, battered, and resolute landscape. This finely-crafted blend of artistry, history, literature, public policy, and ecology tells the full and compelling story of one great western place and its people. In so doing, Balancing Water tells us a great deal about how, if we find the common will to work it right, we can shape the futures of other watersheds across the west.”—Charles Wilkinson, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Colorado, and author of Fire on the Plateau and The Eagle Bird
"Coexistence has never been a popular principle in the American West, but as this book makes clear it has become indispensable for the survival of both endangered nature and endangered rural community. I was inspired by this brilliant collaboration of writer and photographers. They show a West that is changing for the good. They bring a message of hope that is compelling and timely."—Donald Worster, Hall Professor of American History, Univ of Kansas and author of Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West and Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas
North of Klamath Lake, there's a reach of grazing meadows—cut by sod-banked fishing rivers, the Sprague, the Williamson, and the Wood, and centered on the tiny country town of Fort Klamath—that constitute one of the most appealing landscapes in the American West. Fertile, framed by aspen groves, it looks to have once been a paradise of hunting animals like mule deer and elk. If the truly rich with their enormous invulnerabilities and funds ever decide to buy into the Klamath country, the way they have bought up parts of Montana, where I live, they'll probably start around the Fort. In the meantime, as it has been for decades, Fort Klamath is grazing country. About 40,000 acres support 40,000 cows and calves for the summer, some 240,000 animal-unit months
Summer Thunderstorm, Wood River, Oregon.
"Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question of whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free."Restoration Task Force and gave them the task of developing a salmon recovery plan. Farmers in the basin, fearful of losing irrigation water, didn't cooperate. After years of interest-group infighting, the process seems stalled. That same year, 1986, the Klamath tribes asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect two species of fish they regard as culturally valuable, the qapdo (pronounced kuptu) and c'wam (pronounced ch-wam). These fish, also known as shortnose and Lost River suckers, exist only in the Klamath Basin. In 1988 the agency listed both species as endangered. Reclamation was forced to ensure water in habitat where the suckers spawned. Which meant less water for irrigators. Many were furious. But the trouble was just beginning. By 1991 Reclamation had not yet begun work on a plan to ensure the recovery of the suckers. A lawsuit by the ONRC asked that Reclamation be required to consult with federal biologists on matters having to do with the welfare of the suckers. It was, environmentalists say, a way of "requiring them to do their job."
In the meantime, back at Fort Klamath, up toward the head of the watershed, under pressure from environmental groups like Oregon Trout, ranchers voluntarily built fish ladders around irrigation dams and fenced off streamsides. While those efforts were admirable, they were not going to cure the core problem, animal waste in the watershed.
Dr. Karl Wenner and Alice Kilham, Hank's Marsh, Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, 1998. These two were the original cochairs of the Hatfield Klamath Basin Working Group.
Jim Carpenter took some hours away from his Cell Tech duties and drove Tupper and Madeleine and me to sad old polluted Lake Ewauna on the edge of downtown Klamath Falls. Sunken timbers left over from its log-pond days are reputed to lie one on top of the other to a depth of fifty feet, decaying into the nutrient overload that feeds into the Klamath River. Timber-milling buildings along the edge of the lake, the old Modoc Lumber Company, have been torn down, the equipment allegedly shipped to Siberia, leaving 400 acres for development. Carpenter hopes some of that development, along with cobblestone streets and upscale shops, will be wetlands.
Bald eagle, Williamson River delta, Oregon.
The next day Carpenter drove us to the north end of Klamath Lake, to the delta of the Williamson River, for a look at the 4,700 acres formerly drained and farmed by Tulana Farms. In July 1996, with the intention of returning the entire acreage to wetlands, the Nature Conservancy had bought the property. But farmers protested that there was no other "clean" ground in the Klamath Basin for the production of seed potatoes, so Nature Conservancy administrators agreed to continued farming on 1,150 acres. They plan to return 3,650 acres to permanent wetlands. The plan was endorsed by the Klamath tribes, and restoration work was funded at the request of the Hatfield Klamath Basin Working Group. But others saw the final deal as an instance of rolling over when confronted with the economic power of regional agribusiness. The decision-making, it was said, had been undemocratic, involving secret meetings. To give decision makers credit, it's often impossible to do business with private owners if details of the negotiations are going to make the newspapers. And the wetlands, in any event, are a very good idea.
Northern pintail, female preening, Williamson River delta, Oregon.
Wedge Watkins gazed off toward the beauties of the Wood River Valley, aspen groves and winding watercourses, and meadows thick with grazing cattle. "With so much livestock upstream," he said, "we have to absorb about the equivalent of 250,000 people dumping their sewage into this watershed." The marsh will work as a water filter, a spawning ground, and as upstream storage for late-season irrigation in the lower basin. A lot of problems addressed with one redeveloped marshland. But, again, people had complaints about the way the property was acquired, in a land trade—the Wood River marshes for 520 acres of old-growth forest. The federal government, it was said, should have simply bought the properties. For sure, if the old growth is cut, it will be a sad loss in territory where there was once so much so-called virgin timber.
Greater yellowlegs, Williamson River delta, Oregon.
It's hoped that these wetlands will provide water to cover shortages in the basin in all but the driest years (there are people who claim that this, given evaporation rates of around 4 acre-feet per year, is nonsense). Summer nutrient loading in Klamath Lake will in any event be reduced by removal of some eight thousand grazing livestock. And as water is released it will be filtered through marshlands. Some of the toxic microcystin algae will be filtered out.
Redhead, female and brood, Wood River, Oregon.
These projects are presently thought of as major successes. They have brought a wide range of diverse economic and environmental interests into previously unheard-of working partnerships, and waterbirds will throng to the remade marshes.
Long-billed dowitchers, Wood River, Oregon.
American avocet, Wood River, Oregon.
Jim Hainline took Madeleine and Tupper and me out to have lunch with Louis Randall and his wife, Maren, at their Langell Valley home in the Lost River drainage, near the place where wetlands reclamation in the Klamath Basin got under way in 1868, as the Langell family settled in. (It's also the setting for a Zane Grey novel called The Forlorn River.)
Louis Randall, former head of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, alongside his restored marsh, Langell Valley, Oregon, 1998. In 1992, Randall received the National Wetlands Conservation Award, presented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for having one of the best restored wetlands west of the Mississippi.
A few days later, Jim Hainline took Madeleine and Tupper and me to visit with a rancher named Dan Byrne, who comes from a longtime ranching family. Byrne runs cows on private and federally owned highland country, a lot of it rocky juniper flats east of the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Greater white-fronted geese, Lost River wetlands, Langell Valley, Oregon.
Dan Byrne, with bureaucrats from the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service running interference, is turning things around on his operation. Old fences, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, were down, and cattle were in creek bottoms and wetlands used by wildlife. Byrne built a lot of new fence, guaranteeing it would be maintained; he developed stock water from wells powered by solar energy, cleared brush and juniper, and reseeded grasslands. Each step had to be worked out in ways specific to the place, by people who understood local conditions. Room for failure, for learning, was built into the management system. One problem with public-lands management is the unceasing public demand for immediate unconditional success. Management ought to be a monitored but flexible process, subject to failure like any human work, based on the best science but able to respond to changing annual and seasonal conditions.
Dan Byrne, Boles Creek, California, 1998. Byrne uses solar technology to control livestock in his effort to improve streams and riparian areas.
Jim Hainline keeps on promoting the welfare of agricultural communities. By the summer of 1998 he'd brought together a group of ranchers on the upper Williamson River—John Hyde and Clinton Basey among them—to begin talking to ecological scientists and thinking about practical ways to improve watershed conditions. Hainline could point to models like the turnaround Linda Rexroat has worked out on Sycan Marsh. The ranchers and conservationists are talking to one another in reasoning ways. Sensible talk, rather than rhetoric.
Rocky cliff habitat, The Peninsula, California.
A proposed cure for the decrease in waterfowl numbers at Tule Lake, and for water quality problems in general, is "sump rotation." The sumps would be dried up, plowed, farmed as lease land, and an equal amount of former lease land would be flooded, turned into sump land, in hopes of restoring habitat for suckers and waterbirds. The farmers involved would be burdened with breaking out new land, a difficult and expensive proposition. I asked Jim Hainline why farmers would be interested. "They think it's their only chance to keep farming the lease lands. They want to show that farming and wetlands can work in a partnership. They think it's that or lose the lease-lands program altogether."
Sage grouse, Clear Lake, California.
Pronghorn young, Clear Lake Hills, California.
Great Basin wild rye, Horse Mountain, California.
But there are grave objections to Kerns's plan. The first is the cost, around $200 million for the dams (against $5 million for the Agency Lake Ranch). And wetlands at Aspen Lake would be inundated. And Boundary Canyon, according to what I've heard from non-Indian sources, is thick with archeological sites. Jim Kerns's high-dam plan might have been embraced in the West of a few decades back, but the time when it could have been sold to a national public seems to have come and gone. Imagine the lawsuits.
Dave Mauser and Marshall Staunton, Tulelake, California, 1998. Mauser, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Staunton, a farmer leasing federal lands, worked to implement a sump rotation plan intended to allow farming to continue on refuge lands.
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