Those challenges began a century ago with Teddy Roosevelt's decision to "reclaim" the vast wetlands of the Klamath River Basin by building irrigation systems that would attract homesteading farmers and ranchers. This was followed by construction of four power-generating dams, as well as increasing concern about endangered species. Another complicating factor has been the treaty rights of Indian tribes near the mouth of the Klamath and at the river's headwaters.
Throw in a couple of recent drought years, and the result has been too much demand on too little water. Over the years, salmon runs plummeted to 4 percent of their historic numbers, largely due to reduced river flows, which cause warmer waters and fish-killing diseases. During this period, when the commercial fishing season periodically was cut short, 80 percent of the salmon fleet went out of business.
In Seattle this week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency that monitors the well-being of oceangoing species, predicted that this year's Klamath River salmon run would fall below the minimum for conservation (35,000 fish returning from the Pacific to the river to spawn). NMFS recommended that the fishery be closed this season, a decision expected to be followed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils established by Congress to manage fisheries up to 200 miles offshore.
Coincidentally, the controversy over closing the salmon fishery this year comes just as government regulators are deciding whether to renew federal licenses for the four hydropower dams on the lower Klamath River, the first built in 1917, the last in 1962. The dams are operated by PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of energy giant Scottish Power in Glasgow.