By Kehn Gibson
Staff Writer, Tri-County Courier
Testimony submitted to five Congressmen in Klamath Falls Saturday by fisheries biologist Dave Vogel shows that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made numerous incorrect assumptions about the health and population of the Lost River and Short Nose suckers prior to listing them as an endangered species in 1988.
Further, Vogel's research uncovered that a decade later, when the USFW realized their estimates were wrong, they ignored the new data by disregarding the methods used to measure the populations.
"The science on the suckers evolved with beneficial new information, but the USFW's application of the ESA did not," Vogel's written testimony concludes.
Vogel's testimony is certain to draw fire from the Klamath Tribes, whose leverage over the federal government rests primarily on the endangered status of the two sucker species.
The problem facing the Tribes in attacking Vogel's findings is that he is a scientist, and he backs his conclusions with facts.
Annotated, cross-referenced, attributed facts.
For example, Vogel used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of an internal memo sent in 1986 from G.C. Kobetich, a USFW project leader in Sacramento, to USFW's Portland office.
In it, Kobetich states that his office chose not to pursue the listing of the Short Nose sucker due to its "larger population sizes and broader distribution."
Despite the knowledge that the Short Nose sucker population was large and viable, the USFW listed the fish as endangered two years later, in 1988.
Vogel's testimony goes on to cite several studies that demonstrate sucker numbers and distribution continue to increase, yet the USFW did not include that information in formulating its 2001 Biological Opinion.
Vogel concludes, "Unlike the rationale used to list the species, the inflexibility of the ESA has not accounted for this major improvement to fish distribution throughout the watershed."
Vogel's written testimony also illustrates a singular focus on Klamath Project operations by both the USFW and the NMFS to recover the species.
That singular focus was discredited by the National Research Council's Klamath Committee, who recommended a "system-wide" approach to resolving ESA issues in the Basin.
Noting the irony, Vogel also issued a caution.
"Alarmingly, there are some individuals within the agencies who are in a state of denial over the findings and conclusions of the NRC's report," Vogel writes. "This is evident when you examine the recent (NMFS) revised incidental take statement for the Klamath Project Biological Opinion."
That Opinion, Vogel notes, makes no reference to the NRC report, nor does it include any of its findings.
Instead, NMFS used data collected by Dr. Thomas Hardy in the revised statement. That data, called the Hardy Phase II Draft Report, has been called into question for numerous reasons, including data collection methods, misidentification of habitat, and "questionable assumptions" regarding temperatures in the Klamath River.
Vogel said the philosophic disconnect between field staff at the two agencies and the management is "widespread and entrenched."
"If the manner in which the ESA is administered in the Klamath Basin does not change, it is unlikely the species will ever be delisted," Vogel writes in conclusion. "This...would not be a result of biological reasons, but because of procedural problems with the ESA."