April 12, 2021

Ducks, Water and the Lower Klamath Basin


Why it matters: Established in 1908 as the nation’s first waterfowl refuge, the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is a 50,000-acre component of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, dedicated primarily to waterfowl conservation. An estimated 80% of waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway, or 25% of the waterfowl in North America, depend on the Klamath Basin region for staging their annual migrations. Waterfowl conservation is essential so sportsmen and women can continue enjoying some of their favorite pastimes.

Once a vast natural lake and system of marshland, the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) has been challenged with a water shortage since at least 2001, negatively impacting critical waterfowl habitat and conservation efforts. Presently, the Klamath Basin managers have several water allocation concerns including current and future water conditions, availability, and an increasing demand for irrigation water.

In 2013, 2014, and 2018, the refuge experienced a water shortage that resulted in habitat loss, stranded ducklings, disease outbreaks and corresponding declines in waterfowl populations. This past year, the Lower Klamath Refuge experienced a severe avian botulism outbreak that killed an estimated 40,000-60,000 waterfowl and shorebirds. To make matters worse, the Refuge also experienced a reduction in water deliveries that resulted in the concentration of birds within limited wetland habitat and significantly intensified the disease outbreak.

Due to compounding water issues, the Lower Klamath was 85% – 90% drier in 2020 than it was in 2019 and waterfowl aerial counts are down 86% causing concern for sportsmen and women. That is why CSF and partners sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior in support of acquiring water rights to enhance the degraded wetland habitat in the Lower Klamath Basin. While acquiring water rights for the Lower Klamath will not solve the water shortage in its entirety, it will ensure a more reliable source of water in future years.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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