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Wetlands of the Upper Klamath Basin

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Mt Lakes from WRW
Mountain Lakes Wilderness
as viewed from the Wood River Wetlands
©2009 Jim Litts

Klamath Wetland Education and Reseach Institute (KWERI) is putting together a little website to draw attention to The Upper Klamath Basin Wetlands. We will focus on area wetlands to generate awareness and interest in this unique habitat. We hope that an increased awareness will lead to better stewardship and greater support for preservation and restoration efforts.

The wetlands of the Klamath Basin have been reduced to approximately 20% of the area that they occupied prior to the arrival of white settlers to this region approximately 200 years ago. The natives of the region drew much of their sustenance from these wetlands, using the plants, mammals, birds and fishes for everything from food to clothing to transportation to shelter.

When the white pioneers arrived, they too took advantage of many of the benefits of the wetlands. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century and then in full force through the twentieth century, the wetlands were not appreciated for their intrinsic value, but rather seen as land to be reclaimed from the marshes and put to work for agricultural uses. This was an era where our country and much of the developed world exploited newly found technical expertise to expand the extraction economy at a great rate. Major changes came to many areas based upon our newfound abilities to redistribute water. We made what had been deserts into fertile agricultural basins and drained millions of acres of wetlands to produce yet more valuable farmland.

Now, at the dawning of the twenty-first century, we are coming to understand the many benefits these wetlands can provide for humans and for the ecosystem, in general, if managed more conservatively for those benefits. Now we must try to balance those values against the obvious value of agricultural land uses to come to the right balance. Clearly we must produce food to feed ourselves, and we must have ag lands to do this. But how much of the benefit of the wetlands can we surrender toward this end while still retaining sufficient function to meet our other needs?

USGS UKL Map
Map of the Upper Klamath Lake Wetlands
©2009 Lindenberg & Wood, USGS (click to enlarge)

Some of the benefits that wetlands can provide for the Upper Klamath Basin include: