A call to heed the wild

  • CRITICAL EYE: Bald eagle, Williamson River delta, Ore.

    from "Balancing Water"
  Environmentalists have long depended on photos of endangered landscapes to spur us into protecting wild places. The photographers hope that if they show us the wonder of these places, we will fight like mad to save them.


Tupper Ansel Blake and Madeleine Graham Blake, the photographers of Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin, want their photos to do the same. The basin straddles the Oregon-California border just east of the Cascade Mountains, and like many places in the West, it has been the site of intense battles over water in recent years. William Kittredge, well-known for his other books on southern Oregon, joins the Blakes in their efforts. He studies the region's history with the same critical eye as he did in Owning it All and Hole in the Sky, but with sympathy for the predicament in which basin residents find themselves, too.


"Balancing water," as Kittredge calls it, has always been tricky business in the Klamath Basin. Early last century, the Bureau of Reclamation and local farmers busily carved the landscape into units for irrigation, sometimes with disastrous results. Kittredge tells of an ill-conceived plan in the 1920s that dried Lower Klamath Lake. The Bureau hoped to create farms, but most of the lakebed's soil was unfit for agriculture. Soon after, dust storms and smoke from burning peat on the dry lakebed darkened the skies over Klamath Falls. Waterbirds that depended on the lake's marshes disappeared or perished from diseases that easily spread in the few remaining waterholes.


While the federal government and local people divided water among themselves, nature made it clear that all these lands were interconnected. DDT sprayed on surrounding farms and within wildlife refuges during the 1950s found its way into basin marshes, causing the deaths of many fish-eating birds. More recently, the lack of water and the poor quality of the remaining water have played a part in threatening or endangering Klamath Basin salmon, bull trout and the Lost River sucker.


Kittredge believes basin residents can solve these problems through consensus, though it will not be easy. The Clover Leaf Watershed Council and the Upper Klamath Working Group - just two of the examples he mentions - are hopeful signs that local people, the Indian tribes, environmentalists and government agencies can settle their differences outside the courts.


Kittredge has spent his literary career demolishing the cowboy myth and criticizing the imperial attitude held by many who settled the West. Yet he still holds strong affection for those who work the land and for rural people who are pushed aside by those who hold greater power beyond the mountains and deserts surrounding the Klamath Basin. Some of these residents must give up water to restore it. Whether they will do so willingly is unclear.


Kittredge tells a compelling story, but the Blakes' photos in Balancing Water will attract the most attention. The photos of wildlife and landscapes are magnificent, and unlike those in many books of this type, show people as often as wildlife. Whatever is decided about the basin's water, the photos suggest these people will live with the consequences.





Bob Wilson is a former HCN intern and a geography graduate student at the University of Washington.
High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Membership Director Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Classification: Full-time exempt Location: Boise, ID Job Overview Winter Wildlands Alliance is seeking a...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors LOCATION: Ashland, OR POSTING CLOSES: March...
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    ABOUT US: "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes." - Billings Gazette At Northern Plains, we believe that true...
  • ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN THE OUTDOOR PROGRAM
    To view the complete position description please visit: http://employment.stlawu.edu. St. Lawrence University is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
  • TRAIL CREW & ASSISTANT TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL WORK LEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National...
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.