Alan Mikkelsen, the senior advisor to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, releases captive-raised endangered sucker fish into Upper Klamath Lake.

Alan Mikkelsen, the senior advisor to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, releases captive-raised endangered sucker fish into Upper Klamath Lake.

Jes Burns/OPB/EarthFix

The Klamath Tribes are dropping an endangered species lawsuit aimed at protecting two species of culturally-significant fish native to Upper Klamath Lake.

The suit claimed that the federal government was not adequately protecting Lost River and Shortnose suckers, both of which were on the Endangered Species Act list.  It could have also had repercussions for water availability for farmers and other water users in the Klamath Basin.

The Klamath Tribes say the two species of suckers continue to decline because of water quality issues in Upper Klamath Lake.  But they’re dropping their lawsuit in order to focus on a larger federal push to rewrite a conservation plan for the fish, called the “biological opinion” (BiOp).

Last month, the Trump Administration announced it would expedite that process – meaning we could see a new opinion as early as next spring.

“The new BiOp is an opportunity to address the problems of past operations,” said Klamath Tribal Chair Don Gentry in a statement.

The tribes want more water held in the lake to protect the fish, but that would likely mean less water available downstream in a drought-prone region.

Administration representative Alan Mikkelsen has been making the rounds in the region, meeting with irrigators, local and federal officials and representatives of other tribes farther downstream.  

But according to the Herald and News, the relationship between Mikkelsen and the Klamath Tribes is currently strained.

“We don’t have all the parties in the Basin that are willing to sit down and talk about the future of fish and water management in the Basin, and so we’re meeting with those parties who are,” Mikkelsen told the Klamath Falls paper.

Klamath County has experienced 11 drought years in the past two decades, meaning more often than not, water supplies cannot meet the demands of the basin.