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Intense Drought a Big Problem for Lower Klamath NWR

Chris Merkord

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Swans in the wetlands at Lower Klamath NWR in January 2010. This year, fewer waterfowl will winter in the refuge because of extreme drought. (Credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region)
The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), located in northeastern California and southern Oregon, is facing extreme drought and wetland loss. Lower Klamath NWR was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as the nation’s first waterfowl refuge. The refuge comprises 50,092 acres of marshes, open water, croplands and grassy uplands. Over 80 percent of migratory waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway stop at the refuge during spring and fall migrations. At the peak of migration, populations can reach 1.8 million waterfowl.

A variety of waterfowl and shorebirds use the refuge, most notably numerous species of diving ducks, including canvasbacks and redheads, and dabbling ducks including mallards, pintails, and gadwalls. Sandhill cranes flock to Lower Klamath in the fall, and over 30,000 tundra swans winter at the refuge. The iconic American bald eagle reaches a population of 500 at the refuge during its wintering period. Additionally, the refuge is home to 25 species listed by California and Oregon as threatened or sensitive.

All the refuges’ species are experiencing the effects of heavy drought because more than 80 percent of the wetlands have disappeared. Lower Klamath’s water is delivered through an irrigation system of canals managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project, and because the high desert region is in drought, there is no water currently allocated for the refuge. This drought has caused birds to flee to the nearby Tule Lake NWR in northeast California, almost half the size of Lower Klamath NWR.

View the full article from The Wildlife Society's Wildlife Policy News

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