Basin crops still have safe refuge - The House defeats an amendment to keep row crops off refuges

July 18, 2003

By Dylan Darling

H&N Staff Writer

Herald & News

Klamath Falls, Oregon

To submit a Letter to the Editor:

Potatoes, onions and alfalfa will continue to grow on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath national wildlife refuges.

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday defeated an amendment that would have stopped of the growing of row crops on new agricultural leases on the Klamath Wildlife Refuges, with a vote of 228 to 197.

The amendment, attached to a spending bill for the Department of Interior, was sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Chris Shays, R-Conn. Blumenauer tried to pass a similar amendment last year but failed.

Before the vote, both sides gave emotional testimonies.

Congressman Greg Walden held up an enlarged photo of a Klamath Basin farming family and urged the House to not limit agriculture in an area still reeling from economic loses from 2001's water cutoff. Blumenauer said it made no sense to have row crops growing on a refuge for wildlife and pushed for change in how the refuges are managed.

Walden was joined in his opposition by Oregon Democrats Peter DeFazio, David Wu and Darlene Hooley. California Republicans Wally Herger and John Doolittle, who represent portions of the Klamath Basin, also spoke out against the amendment on the floor during the debate.

"The amendment would have hurt family farmers in the Klamath Basin who have already suffered enough and would have had little, if any, benefit to the refuges," said Walden. "In fact, some of the crops the amendment would have prohibited consume less water than those it would have required to be grown. What we need is a comprehensive solution to the problems in the Basin, not a rifle-shot approach."

The growing of row crops on the refuges is allowed because of a 1964 act of Congress specific to the two refuges. In it, 25 percent of the land can be used for row crops, while the other 75 percent can be used for cereal grain and hay. Other refuges around the country have farming on them, but their crops are ones that are then used as feed for wildlife, such as barley.

Blumenauer's amendment was backed by a number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund. His amendment was opposed by a number of agriculture advocacy organizations, including the Oregon Farm Bureau, the California Farm Bureau, the American Farm Bureau, the Oregon Wheat Growers League, the Oregon Potato Commission, the Oregon Cattleman Association, Oregonians for Food and Shelter, and the Klamath Water Users Association.

The amendment was defeated by a greater margin this year than last year, which went down 223 to 201.

This was the second time this year that farmers could have lost their ability to grow row crops on refuges. A lawsuit brought the Wilderness Society and other environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuges, failed last month. It was the third time in five years a suit questioning the practice had been brought.