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Report from Omaha: Tribes and Fishermen Call On Warren Buffett to Remove Klamath Dams

by Dan Bacher
An unprecedented coalition of Klamath River Indian Tribes, commercial and recreational fishermen and conservationists is in Omaha, Nebraska this weekend to demand that Warren Buffett sign an agreement to remove his four fish-killing dams.
Klamath River Tribes and Fishermen Go to Omaha to Confront Warren Buffett Over Dams

by Dan Bacher

Yesterday afternoon I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska to join with Klamath River Basin tribal leaders, commercial fishermen and conservation groups to confront billionaire Warren Buffett over his refusal to remove his four dams.

A group of over 27 people will be attending the annual general meeting of Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway tomorrow, either inside the meeting as shareholders or outside as protesters. Representatives of the alliance held a press conference at the Marriott Hotel this morning at 10 a.m. providing further evidence that the Buffett-owned dams on the Klamath have created an economic and environmental disaster zone on the river.

The weather here has been typical of the Midwest in the spring - 85 degrees yesterday, heavy thunderstorms this morning, and sunny and much cooler this afternoon.

The speakers panel at the press conference included Richard Myers, Yurok Tribal Council Member, Leaf Hillman, Vice-Chair of the Karuk Tribe, Regina Chichizola, executive director of the Klamath Riverkeeper and myself, speaking on behalf of recreational anglers. Dave Bitts, a commercial troller, was also scheduled to speak, but he and commercial troller Bob Kemp from Oregon had their plane flight connection from Denver cancelled until this afternoon because of a big snow storm over the Rocky Mountains.

An elder from the Omaha tribe, Eugene Pappan, gave a blessing and a brief talk to open the press conference, while Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, moderated the event. Time Magazine, the Associated Press, National Geographic Magazine, the local FOX TV News affiliate and several local newspapers covered the event. Steven Most, an independent filmmaker and author from Berkeley, is also covering the meeting here as part of a documentary on battle to restore the Klamath.

Women from the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes dressed in traditional regalia for the conference and served smoked Klamath River salmon to the media and people gathered in the audience. Behind the podium and the panelists organizers put up some dramatic photos on poster boards documenting the fish kill on the Klamath in 2002.

The press conference was a big success in getting the word out about Warren Buffett's refusal to support dam removal. This evening a crew of young American Indian activists will leafet and hold signs outside of an event sponsored by Buffett. Tomorrow members of the alliance will attend the Berkshire-Hathaway meeting, both inside and out, in an effort to convince Buffett to remove his dams.

The unprecedented alliance of tribes, businesses, conservation groups and commercial and recreational fishermen has tried over the past two years to reach an agreement with Buffett-owned PacifiCorp to agree to dam removal. After negotiations stalled, some members of the alliance decided more action was required to convince Buffett and PacifCorp to agree to dam removal.

"As long as there is no business as usual on the Klamath River, there will be no business as usual for Berkshire Hathaway and Mid-American Energy," said Karuk Vice-Chair Leaf Hillman.

Yesterday's declaration of a commercial fisheries failure by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez underscores the urgency of dam removal. Although the Central Valley salmon population crash this year is the immediate cause of the fishery failure that has resulted in the closure of recreational and commercial fishing along the California and Oregon coast, two years ago it was the decline of Klamath River salmon that resulted in severe restrictions on ocean commercial fishing, along with big cuts in salmon catch quotas for tribal and recreational fishermen on the Klamath itself.

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) assesses the potential loss from the closure of the 2008 salmon season to be $255 million and 2,263 California jobs, including both commercial and recreational fishing jobs.

The group today released a report based on toxicological analyses performed by the Department of Fish Game. Lab results show that yellow perch and freshwater mussels from Klamath reservoirs contain dangeroulsy high levels of the algael toxin microsystin. The toxin is released from massive blooms of the algae Microystsis aeruginosa that flourishes in Buffett's reservoirs during the summer months.

"Warren Buffett's philanthropy works to end poverty and disease around the world while his dams are creating those conditions right here in America," said Regina Chichizola of the Klamath Riverkeeper, as she displayed two bottles filled with toxic algae from the Klamath. "It is time for that to change. Cleaning up the river by removing the dams is the right thing to do."

Dam removal is the best option not just for the people who depend on the Klamath River, but it is also the cheapest option for PacifiCorp and Warren Buffett. Economic studies from state and federal agencies agree that dam removal is cheaper than removing the dams. For example, a California Energy Commission economic analysis concludes that dam removal, compared with the cost of installing fish ladders, would save PacifiCorp over $100 million.

"Buffett and his shareholders can actually save money by doing the right thing," said Richard Myers of the Yurok Tribe.

Myers pointed out the irony that many members of the Yurok Tribe have no electricity while Warren Buffett's dams make electricity from the river's water.

Leaf Hillman from the Karuk Tribe gave a historical perspective on the Klamath River dams.

"The first of the PacifiCorp dams was built on the river in 1916," said Hillman. "This stopped the migration of salmon to the upper Basin that the Klamath Tribes depended upon for thousands of years. PacifiCorp told their first lie - that they would provide access over the dam to migratory fish - when they applied for their first license. Since that time, the company has acted in bad faith."

The alliance is demanding that Warren Buffett do what is best for the salmon, best for the environment, best for the Klamath River Indian Tribes, best for the ratepayers and shareholders, and best for the thousands of those employed in the fishing industry.

"Warren Buffett is part of the problem now - we demand that he become a part of the solution," concluded Richard Myers. "Warren, sign the dam removal agreement and bring our salmon home!"

For more information, go to http://www.klamathriver.org.
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