Interview with Craig Tucker, Klamath Campaign Coordinator, Karuk Tribe

Monday, December 15, 2008

1.Please provide a list and very short summary of the project(s) you have
worked on and their status.

Removal of PacifiCorp's lower four Klamath River Dams. Currently a coalition of Tribes, conservation and fishing groups, farmers, and local governments support a basin wide restoration plan that is predicated on the removal of the lower four Klamath Dams. The groups continue to pressure PacifiCorp through lawsuits, grassroots actions, and media to work with affected communities to develop a dam removal plan. Talks are underway.

2.When approaching a dam removal project, what is the first thing you have to know, the first step, the first thing one should tackle?

1. Clearly define the ecological impacts of the project. Although to most of us its obvious that fish need water and spawning habitat, dam removal advocates typically have to prove these points in court. Make sure your science is extensive and legally defensible.
2. Clearly describe the social and/or economic impacts of the dams. Are there affected Native Communities? Fishing communities? Are there negative impacts on ecotourism? Define these impacts and invest in developing economic arguments that support your position. Find ways to compare the economic impacts of dam operations to dam removal.
3. Build a diverse coalition. The bigger the political battle the more diverse and broad of a coalition you need. You need effective spokespeople that can represent the issue from all the diverse perspectives. We have Tribal leaders, scientists, farmers, and commercial fishermen able to forward our message.

3.Considering all the cases you've encountered, what makes the strongest
argument for removal?

Toxics and economics. On the Klamath, the reservoirs created by the dams erupt each summer with massive blooms of toxic blue-green algae. In addition, the Klamath dams generate little power while brining the facilities into compliance with modern environmental laws by building fish ladders and other modifications will cost ratepayers nearly $500 million. Our science and legal arguments were used to ensure that in order to keep the dams, extensive mitigation measures would be necessary thereby creating a strong economic argument in favor of dam removal.

4.In your campaign(s), how important was it to have alternatives or replacements for what was lost in dam re-operation or removal?

We do have economic studies that show you can remove the Klamath dams and replace the lost power with truly renewable sources more cheaply than building the required fish ladders.

5.What lessons have you learned?

Building the bipartisan, cross cultural coalition has been a big challenge. There are some groups in the Klamath Basin that remain unwilling to make comprises necessary for building the coalition and thus have critics within the conservation and Tribal communities. On a positive note, we have learned that even the likes of Warren Buffett are sensitive to the public relations problems that coalitions like ours can create.

6.If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would have kept up more pressure on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Schwarzenegger has the ability to be a major force in our struggle and be our political champion. However we have invested most of our energy in putting pressure on PacifiCorp and have failed to get Schwarzenegger to become 'Conan the Riparian.' Going forward we intend to correct that

7.Who are your river restoration heroes, and why?

The young activists living on the Klamath. We have a group of young people from the various Tribes as well as non-native activists that have over time become key players in our campaign. This group has taken lead in organizing protests, engaged in direct action and acts of civil disobedience, and inspired others. Its not easy for a young person from a very small rural and poor community to decide to take on someone like Warren Buffett, but the young activists from our communities on the Klamath are fearless.

8.Do you anticipate any repercussions for river restoration efforts from the financial crisis?

Certainly it will be more difficult to fund our campaigns and on the ground restoration efforts. I hope that the corollary to that is that it will be more difficult to fund new dams and diversions as well!

More information: 

Dam Removal: Learning from the Pros

WRR Dec. 2008

S. Craig Tucker, Ph.D.
Klamath Campaign Coordinator
Karuk Tribe
707-839-1982 (tel)
916-207-8294 (cell)
530-627-3446 x3027 (Tribal office in Orleans)