Posts Tagged ‘Klamath Basin’

Interested in seeing more of the Klamath Basin’s refuge system, we went to the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge in California, just 25 miles from Klamath Falls. Here’s Brian in Oregon. A step over the double yellow line and he’s in California.

The issue of water rights is a touchy subject with such a strong conflict of interest between agricultural usage and nature. For thousands of years, Klamath tribes lived in harmony with the marshes, but European settlers came, saw agricultural opportunities and drained.  They “reclaimed” 80% of the marshlands over a period of a half dozen decades, causing a drastic reduction in waterfowl populations and water quality. Reclamation?!  What an excellent example of the term euphemism.

Objectively speaking, the Klamath Project is impressive engineering, construction and management. Irrigation is a major part of the landscape in the Basin. Roads, railways and irrigation canals crisscross each other over the patchwork of farm fields.

Klamath Project map -- from usbr.gov site

Tule Lake is much smaller than it used to be and farmland marches right up to its edges as can be seen in the following photo. There is a dam on the Lost River in Oregon built to divert water to the Klamath River in order to prevent flooding of farmland surrounding Tule Lake in California during rainy periods.

Tule Lake & farm fields

At one corner of the lake is Discovery Marsh.  We visited the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center across the street and learned about the program of rotation that has been implemented since people realized that marshes need change, not stability.  Some of the leased land beside the lake that was being farmed exclusively is now in rotation — sometimes farmland, sometimes marsh.  Restoring the “reclaimed” marsh takes a lot of effort and management, but the idea is to simulate the periodic creation and destruction that occurs in natural marshlands.  So much effort for so little marsh, but it is a start.

Discovery Marsh, in lower half of image. Tule Lake is the pale blue water.

White-faced Ibis

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We parked in a dusty lot at a bend in the road, not far from a tiny grocery/convenience store. According to the map, we were in Olene, OR, but there was no other evidence of a town in any direction; just few widely spaced houses with outbuildings, big fenced pastures and a slow, quiet river winding through the gap in low mountains to either side. It wasn’t especially early. In fact, we were out too late yet again for our comfort, all four of us.
We geared up for a walk, with humans toting water for four, knowing that two 100 oz. CamelBak bladders wouldn’t be enough water for us all on a long walk in this heat.
We had been wanting to see something of the OC&E Woods Line Trail. Converted from the Oregon, California & Eastern Railroad, 100 miles of trail connects Klamath Falls to Bly and to the Sycan Marsh. This short stretch that we walked is a vehicle width dirt track and starts out beside the Lost River and Canal B of the Klamath Project (system of irrigation for cropland).

OC&E Trail on left, Canal B and then Lost River to far right

The countryside is quiet and open just outside of the Klamath Falls area. We saw Western Fence Lizards scurrying off of the edges of the trail ahead of us. Scrub Jays shrieked at us from Junipers on the hillside.

Western Fence Lizard

Blazing Star


Close-up view of Juniper's root and burrows in hill

Patches of bent and broken stems in the otherwise tall grasses beside the trail were evidence of squirrel feeding zones. We watched a ground squirrel standing upright on back legs, reaching up and, paw over paw, pulling tall stems down until it could get to the seed at the top.

Ground squirrel eating seed

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