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The historic agreement designed to end long-standing water wars between fish advocates and farmers throughout the 16,000-square-mile Klamath River Basin appears to be facing collapse.
On Tuesday, the Yurok Tribe — one of three key Klamath River Indian tribes that have signed onto the consensus — announced it will be withdrawing from the Klamath Agreements, which have not been able to get the U.S. congressional approval needed for implementation.
“Unfortunately, Congress has failed to pass legislation authorizing the agreements, and over time the bargained-for benefits of the agreements have become unachievable. The Tribe is left with no choice other than to withdraw from the Klamath Agreements,” states the Yurok Tribe’s Notice of Withdrawal.
The Karuk Tribe and the Klamath Tribes of Oregon will also pull out from the deal if the agreements continue to languish in Congress, according to Craig Trucker, Klamath Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe. Calls to the Klamath Tribes were not returned Wednesday.
The Klamath Agreements refer to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the politically connected Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), which together would remove four aging hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River and invest hundreds of millions of dollars for salmon restoration into the basin while securing guaranteed water flows for farmers in the basin.
Since 2014, the Klamath Agreements have also been connected to the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, which was negotiated between the Klamath Tribes of Oregon — a single tribal government representing three tribal peoples — and irrigators. The agreement guaranteed 30,000 acre feet of in-flows to Upper Klamath Lake benefitting endangered sucker fish in the lake and downstream users as well as an economic development plan for Klamath Tribes that would create a timber industry for the tribe.
That agreement was sought to bring stability to farmers and ranchers of the Upper Klamath after the Klamath Tribes won the most senior water rights above Upper Klamath Lake in March 2013.
In June 2013, Klamath Tribes exercised their newly-awarded rights by making a call for water they are allocated, which during a drought year, meant less or no water for junior water rights holders.
Although the 2014 agreement was heralded by Oregon’s governor and U.S. senators as a historic compromise to heal the river basin and the people that rely on it, the Yurok Tribe was left out of negotiations — despite promises to the contrary — causing a bitter rift.
“The Upper Klamath Basin parties during negotiations of the KBRA had assured the Yurok Tribe that they would address how the Tribe would be involved in governance and technical forums in the Upper Klamath Basin. The Tribe reminded various parties of this and requested to be involved in the Upper Klamath Basin negotiations,” the Yurok Tribe’s notice states. “The Tribe was not invited to participate in the negotiation of this agreement. This represented a return to the old Oregon-California/Upper Klamath-Lower Klamath division of the Klamath River system rather than the comprehensive approach taken by the Klamath Agreements.”
The Yurok Tribe did not respond to request for comment regarding the notice of withdrawal.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a longtime supporter of the Klamath Agreements, issued a statement saying he still believes that the accord is the “best way forward” but that his patience is also wearing thin.
“While I am disappointed by the Yurok Tribe’s change of heart on the Klamath agreements, I share their frustration with the lack of action in Congress over the past three years,” Huffman’s statement said. “This historic consensus effort to remove Klamath River dams and restore one of the most important salmon rivers on the West Coast is premised on congressional authorization, and as years tick by with little action by Congress the obvious risk is that the stakeholder consensus starts to unravel.”
Other parties closely involved with the Klamath Basin and its water struggles believe the Klamath Agreements’ days are done.
“We consider these to be zombie agreements. They don’t have a chance at life. They just keep trucking along because the most powerful interests — Pacificorp and the irrigators — really want them to pass, but they don’t really work,” said Jim McCarthy, communications director and southern Oregon program manager for WaterWatch.
WaterWatch is a conservation group that was party to the Klamath Agreements negotiations until being “involuntarily expelled,” along with Oregon Wild, for disagreeing with the deal’s mandate of commercial farming in the National Wildlife Refuges of the Upper Klamath, according to WaterWatch.
“These agreements don’t work because they’re based on make-believe water and won’t provide the flows that salmon need. They don’t solve the fundamental problem of over-appropriation in the basin. We need basinwide water-use reduction,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy said that WaterWatch believes the four PacifiCorp owned dams on the Klamath will be removed without legislation and hundreds of million in taxpayer funds because it’s the most economically feasible option for the power company, which would be required to install a costly fish ladder to continue operation of the dams otherwise.
The hope of the Klamath Agreements passing has actually prevented the relicensing process that would likely end in dam removal from moving forward, McCarthy said. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been allowing the dams to continue operation on temporary annual operating licenses since 2006, when the long-term licenses expired and negotiations for the Klamath Agreements first began.
PacifiCorp, which operates as Pacific Power in Oregon and California, has already collected more than $1.1 million from Del Norte County ratepayers for the removal of the four Klamath dams. Pacific Power has collected more than $2.3 million for dam removal from ratepayers in Siskiyou County where the Klamath Agreements have been akin to political kryptonite.
Some former Siskiyou County supervisors lost re-election campaigns due to their support of the agreements. In a recent statement, Tucker said the bills representing the Klamath Agreements have been stalled by Siskiyou County’s congressional representative, Congressman Doug LaMalfa.
Although Tucker and the Karuk Tribe are still hoping to move forward with Klamath Agreements legislations, they realize the political realities might decide the deal’s fate for them.
“These drought years are really hard on the salmon and if Congress can’t get with the program and make it happen, we’re going to do it through the courts and better venues. You can’t make laws with the Congress you want, you have to make laws with the Congress you have,” Tucker said, adding that the has nothing but respect for the Yurok Tribal Council and staff. “We do respect the Yurok Tribe’s decision to make a decision that they think is right for them.”
Some see the Yurok Tribe’s announcement as the first step in healing division among Klamath River tribes that was created from the Klamath Agreements.
Felice Pace, a longtime environmental activist of the Klamath River Basin that maintains KlamBlog, a blog with Klamath River-related news, said he was hopeful that the unity needed for true basin-wide restoration will be restored.
“I am encouraged that the Yurok Tribe has taken this step because in my opinion the tribe is much stronger when the three lower basin tribes are united,” Pace said.
Statements from the group, Honor the Treaty of 1864, a group of Klamath Tribes members voicing opposing views from the Klamath Tribes’ council illustrates the divide: “Many tribal members no longer have contact with family and close friends over divisive and destructive KBRA politics.
“Others have been denied tribal employment based solely on their stance regarding the dubious Klamath Basin water agreements,” the Honor the Treaty of 1864 statement says. “The KBRA does nothing to heal historical and spiritual damages for Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin people. By securing water primarily for agricultural purposes, the KBRA and associated documents perpetuate these damages and continue to inflict pain, trauma and division amongst our people.”
This year’s Operation Yurok resulted in the eradication of approximately 55,000 marijuana plants. Large-scale cannabis cultivation, on and near the Yurok Reservation, is responsible for robbing millions of gallons of cold water from several tributaries that feed the Klamath River. The main purpose of the two-week, collaborative operation was to return as much water as possible to the Klamath and the Tribe’s community water systems, which are located downstream of many of the illegal pot plantations. Large quantities of chemical fertilizers, as well as illegal grading and trash dumping, were a common visage at the environmentally destructive grow sites.
Currently, the Klamath River is suffering from salmon-stressing, warm temperatures and low flows. Earlier this week, the Yurok Fisheries Program found adult Chinook salmon infected with Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich), the same deadly disease responsible for the 2002 fish kill. The pathogen thrives in warm, slow flowing water.
Please help get the word out. It is illegal to grow marijuana on the Yurok Reservation.
By LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 7/14/15
Mickey Gemmill Jr., chairman of the Pit River Tribe, says he is disappointed with last week’s raid of marijuana grow operations in Modoc County, including one involving the Pit River Tribe.
Agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Drug Enforcement Administration raided two sites on tribal lands near Alturas last Wednesday. According to a new release from the agencies, law enforcement officers, including the Modoc County Sheriff ’s Department, seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.
“The marijuana grows in question have received substantial attention in Modoc County, as has the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidance relating to marijuana cultivation on tribal lands,” the release said. One site was an indoor grow operation at the Alturas Indian Rancheria, inside the tribe’s former Event Center near the Desert Rose Casino. The second site was the XL Ranch adjacent to Highway 395 along the Pit River. According to the release, the XL site included 40 newly constructed greenhouses, each capable of growing about 1,000 plants, and a gable-roofed structure that boosted the square footage another 50 percent.
“Both of the grow operations, which appear to have been operating in conjunction with each other, were well in excess of the locally enacted marijuana cultivation applicable to county land,” the release said. “The volume of marijuana that the XL facility alone was capable of producing, estimated at 40,000-60,000 plants, far exceeds any prior known commercial marijuana grow operation anywhere within the 34-county Eastern District.
“According to tribal representatives, all of the marijuana cultivated at both facilities was intended to be distributed off tribal lands at various unidentified locations. As indicated in the search warrant affidavits, the investigation to date indicates both operations may have been financed by a third party foreign national.”
In comments to the Herald and News and in a news release, Gemmill disputed some of those claims and emphasized the Pit River Tribe is not affiliated with the Alturas Rancheria.
The Pit River Tribe has about 3,000 members and has manages about 14,000 acres of land, including about 10,000 in Modoc County near Alturas. The Alturas Rancheria has five members and tribal holdings of about 20 acres.
Gemmill said federal agencies failed to provide any warning before last week’s raid, despite the Pit River Tribe’s efforts to follow guidelines.
“Federal agents destroyed the patient cooperative’s plants and seized confidential patient information, among other documents,” he said in news release. “We are very disappointed with the decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the lead federal agency, to descend on sovereign land with an army of nearly 50 law enforcement officers. That the BIA would take such a disrespectful approach to an Indian tribe on its own land is a serious assault to the tribe’s right to self-governance.”
“This action was especially appalling given that some tribal members were subjected to excessive police force, severely injured and arrested during the search,” Gemmill said. “We believe that it is important to remind the BIA of its responsibility to protect Indian tribes, not to undermine legitimate tribal efforts to create jobs and improve the health and welfare of tribal members.”
“Needless to say, we intend to have conversations in the coming days with the Department of Justice and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs,” said Gemmill.
The Pit River Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe of 11 autonomous bands of Indians with tribal lands in Shasta, Lassen, Siskiyou and Modoc counties. The Pit River Tribe has no affiliation with the Alturas Indian Rancheria and is not cooperating with any marijuana cultivation being conducted on the 20 acre Alturas Rancheria.
by LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 7/14/15
Details of the Pit River Tribe’s marijuana grow operation in Modoc County, near Alturas, have been released by tribal Chairman Mickey Gemmill Jr.
He said earlier this year, the Pit River Tribe “joined the ranks of California and nearly two dozen other state governments by adopting a regulatory program that legalizes the cultivation of medical marijuana on tribal land. The tribe’s decision was in response to the Oct. 28, 2014, guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice indicating that such activity would not trigger federal enforcement action, provided that measures were taken to prevent delineated conduct of concern to law enforcement.
“The tribe’s Medical Marijuana Program Ordinance is consistent with California’s two laws governing cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana, the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program Act, and in fact, goes well beyond those statutes to ensure compliance with the eight federal law enforcement priorities,” Gemmill said.
“Tribal law requires that all medical marijuana be grown only for qualified medical marijuana patients residing in California. The tribe also has adopted stringent regulations on inventory control, quality assurance, site security, member-patient criteria, plant tracking and plant limits, among other requirements, all of which go much further than the laws of the state.”
According to Gemmill, the Medical Marijuana Program “authorizes the cooperative association of qualified patients to cultivate marijuana for medical use, as long as they operate on a non-profit basis. No other individual or entity is permitted to cultivate marijuana on tribal land. In accordance with these laws, Pomari-Awte, an arm of the tribe with authority to administer the operational aspects of the Medical Marijuana Program, approved the creation of a patient cooperative to cultivate medical marijuana on the Tribe’s land in Modoc County. Thereafter, program administrators reviewed and approved membership applications from qualified patients wishing to join the cooperative, known as High Desert Farms.”
Gemmill said the tribe created an independent regulatory agency to monitor and oversee the program to ensure compliance with tribal law, relevant federal policy and applicable California law.
“Each medical marijuana plant is assigned to a particular patient, with each plant bearing the identification of the patient for whom it is cultivated and a unique serial number to ensure that each plant can be tracked. Again, these provisions go far beyond anything required by California state law, and are modeled after the more robust regulatory schemes in other medical marijuana states,” Gemmill added.
He said the tribe is experienced at operating within highly regulated industries, noting, “We’ve managed a well-regulated gaming facility for 19 years and felt very comfortable creating a robust regulatory environment for the Medical Marijuana Program.”
“The Oct. 28, 2014, Department of Justice’s guidance memorandum addressing marijuana operations in Indian Country expressly instructs each U.S. Attorney to meaningfully engage in government-to-government consultation with Indian tribes in their district that seek to authorize marijuana activity on tribal lands,” Gemmill said in the release.
“We have been transparent in our conversations with the federal government and made no secret of our intent to exercise our sovereignty in the manner we believe appropriate. We consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office prior to implementing our ordinance and continued to consult with that office and other government officials throughout its implementation.”
He said the tribe provided the attorney’s office a copy of the Medical Marijuana Program Ordinance and a comparative analysis of how the program complies with the guidance memorandum and compares to state and local laws.
“We pointed out the regulatory safeguards adopted by the tribe to comply with the enforcement priorities outlined by the Department of Justice in the guidance memo,” Gemmill said. “We asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to identify any concerns and to advise the tribal government before taking any enforcement action against the tribal project.”
An early morning raid Monday marked the beginning of an aggressive effort, led by the Yurok Tribe, the California National Guard Counterdrug Unit and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, to eradicate dozens of environmentally destructive marijuana farms from the Yurok Reservation and adjacent lands.
“The illegal plantations that we are targeting pose a severe threat to our natural resources, our water and our way of life,” said Susan Masten Vice Chairperson of the Yurok Tribe. “It breaks my heart to see these 10,000 plant grows sucking our watersheds dry, while our community is on the brink of running out of water. It is unacceptable and it is immoral.”
Monday’s operation removed multiple illegal marijuana crops, including one that an environmental scientist at the scene described as an “environmental disaster.” Dozens of abandoned vehicles, 20-plus broken car batteries and several cubic yards of household waste were strewn across the grow site and nearby ravine. Numerous tires, refrigerators and piles of grow-related garbage were also found on the property, which had recently been illegally graded to cover up some of the toxic debris. The collaborative effort will continue into next week.
The unlawful pot plantations are diverting untold millions of gallons of water from the creeks that feed the Tribe’s community water systems, which are barely producing enough to satisfy the basic needs of 300-plus families on the east side of the reservation. The illegal diversions are also impacting crucial cold streams that are critical for fish health. Currently, the temperature of the Klamath River is nearly 75 degrees, a significant threat to the salmon starting to migrate upriver to spawn. High numbers of the anadromous fish are already holding at the creek mouths, where it is up to 20 degrees cooler, to regulate their body temperatures. In times of drought, these fish could not survive without these cold water refuges.
Operation Yurok is a collaboration between Tribal, federal and state law enforcement, including: California National Guard Counterdrug Unit, Bureau of Indian Affairs, CA Fish and Wildlife, Water Quality Control Board and others. The collaborative effort was initiated after the Yurok Tribe reached out to California Governor Jerry Brown for assistance. Governor Brown responded by sending members of the state’s National Guard to aid in reining in the enormous environmental impact and massive water theft uncovered during a lengthy investigation into dozens of industrial-size marijuana plantations. Prior to the main operation, Tribal and County law enforcement took down a large grow, containing more than 10,000 plants.
“These pot farms are the largest that we’ve ever seen in the Tribe’s ancestral territory,” said Yurok Public Safety Chief Leonard Masten. “We are going to file charges for every environmental crime and hold accountable the individuals responsible for damaging the Tribe’s sacred resources.”
In the past five years, a deluge of clandestine cannabis growers from all over the United States have moved to lands within and adjacent to the Yurok Reservation. The combination of the mountainous terrain and minimally funded law enforcement has made it a desirable destination for greedy growers looking to make a quick buck. The migration is eerily similar to what happened to the Tribe in 1849, when men throughout the U.S. flocked to Northern California in search of a shiny, yellow metal.
“First, our Tribe was hit by the Gold Rush and then it was unregulated, clear-cut logging,” Vice Chairperson Masten said. “The Green Rush threatens to destroy what is left of our forests and rivers.”
Last year, a coalition, comprised of many of the same law enforcement agencies, conducted a similar operation and found horrifying abuses to the environment, such as grading in sensitive riparian areas, illegal dumping of petroleum products and the depositing of waist-high piles of human excrement near waterways. At one grow site on the south side of Bald Hills Road, a four-inch pipe and a massive generator were used to divert every last drop of a cold creek to a large plantation. At another location, east of Weitchpec, a group of growers deforested an entire mountaintop to grow 5,000 plants. They used some of the logs to build a two-story shanty and the rest of the timber to construct giant barricades around the property.
The industrial-scale grows resemble mountaintop coal mining [more] than any type of agriculture. These deep scars on the ecological landscape are challenging and extremely expensive to remediate. At one site, cleaned up by the Yurok Tribe and the California National Guard, it cost $30,000 to remove tons of trash, dismantle the hundreds of yards of hose and properly dispose of hazardous chemicals.
Last year’s collaborative effort netted more than 15,000 pot plants. It is estimated that it takes three to six gallons of water per day to grow one marijuana plant. The crop would have conservatively wasted 5 million gallons of water meant for the community, as well as fish and wildlife. What is not taken into consideration are leaks in the miles of plastic pipe used to move water from a spring or creek to the growing operation, a common feature at the 43 sites visited last year. Officers witness water trickling out of pipes onto the ground at almost every plantation.
This year, Operation Yurok is expected to eradicate at least three times as many crops.
“We are trying to send a loud message that illegal pot growers are not welcome on Tribal lands. Operation Yurok will continue until we stop the theft of our water and egregious environmental destruction,” concluded Vice Chairperson Masten.
The Yurok Tribe is largest federally recognized Tribe in California. The natural resource-based Tribe is best known for the implementation of leading-edge watershed restoration projects, language preservation program and cultural protection effort. The Tribe is a Zero Tolerance Ordinance, making all illicit drugs illegal on the Reservation.