Posted by: atowhee | July 17, 2021


The current drought and a quarter-miilion acre fire are only the current tragic news from Klamath County.

Since control of the Klamath Basin was wrested away from Native Americans, the wildlife there has suffered waves of persecution and death.  In the late 19th Century it was market hunters selling and grebe duck meat, and plume hunters supplying egret and heron plumes to the millinery trade for women’s hats. The elk and pronghorn were also a source of cheap meat.

Thanks to William Finley and other pioneering conservationists, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside over 81-thousand acres in a wildlife refuge which included what was then Lower Klamath Lake.  But greed for more land did not get outlawed.  President Wilson gave 7000 acres to homesteaders in 1915. Then the Bureau of Land Management sold another 27,600 acres to the Klamath Drainage District …at less than $4 per acre. The new landowners and BLM then agreed to block any future Klamath River water from flooding into the doomed lake. Flood gates closed in 1917, by 1920 Lower Klamath Lake was history and most water birds homeless. Soon peat fires and alkalai dust storms were the norm around Klamath Falls. Sheep now grazed where once a tule-rich lake had stood for millennia.

By 1917 BLM had cut off all water to Tule Lake and was selling off the lake bed.  Finally in 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt stopped that with an order expanding the Tule Lake NWR. Not long after Pearl Harbor FDR’s administration set up a concentration camp there for Japanese-Americans.

Eugene author, Joe Blakely, outlines this much of this heart-breaking process in his biography of William Finley.
J. B. Publishing, PO BOX 51561,  Eugene  97405.

Frank Chapman  was America’s most prominent ornithologist over one hundred years ago …here are his words on visiting Lower Klamath Lake:
“I went to Lower Klamath Lake (June 30-July 7, 1906)…for a group of white pelicans [he was going to shoot them for a museum exhibit in New York City] which the researches of Messers. Finley and Bohlman…had shown to nest there abundantly…the lake itself is doomed and the railroad will be a fit accompaniment to the farms which will replace the tules.”

The band of tules along the lakeshore was sometimes a mile deep, Chapman reported.  He found many White Pelicans on what was then still Lower Klamath Lake.  Also, many Caspian terns, gulls, night-herons, grebes.  The latter were then hunted for meat by local market hunters.

Finley with his “portable” camera, and a friend:

It is fitting that Finkey now has a wildlife refuge named after him, not many miles from Corvallis where his writings, glass photo plates and other materials reside in the Oregon State University library.

Edward Curtis shots of Klamath tribe member harvesting and grinding wokas:


The Bootleg Fire makes its own weather.

Finley archives at OSU.

Klamath Basin today as reported by Oregon Public Radio in a week of shows.

Klamath River dams will finally go.

Native American woman afraid when she drives past farms.

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