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Fish and Cattle Fans Cooperate in Klamath Basin

LightHawk volunteer pilots ready their aircraft to fly over the hotly contested Kalamath River Basin helping tribal members and cattle ranchers find common ground from the sky. image: Jon Engle/LightHawk

In 2008, LightHawk supported water sharing in the Klamath River Basin with a blitz of local flights. Today, we applaud tribes and ranchers who signed an agreement to share water in the upper reaches of the Basin by looking back at those early flights. The two groups are working together to sustain the future for the fish and cattle so closely tied to their identities.

Originally posted on National Geographic NewsWatch.

LightHawk volunteer pilot Jane Nicolai (left) poses with her passengers including a local rancher, media and a wildlife biologist. image: Greg Bedinger/LightHawk

Six years ago, volunteer pilots, conservation partners and LightHawk board, staff and volunteers gathered in the high desert of southern Oregon not only for the world-class bird watching and fly-fishing, but also to learn more about the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and how LightHawk flights make a positive difference by helping to bring understanding and cooperation to diverse groups.

The Klamath River Basin claims parts of Oregon and California in a diverse mix of agricultural and cattle grazing lands, salmon waters, bird-friendly wetlands and more. Touring the region by air helped a diverse group of stakeholders understand the lay of the land. image: Greg Bedinger/LightHawk

Known for many years as a contentious water rights battleground, the Klamath Basin had seen a shift toward a cooperative approach in recent years. The KBRA was forged by ranchers, Native American tribes, farmers, conservationists and government officials who came together to create a blueprint for the restoration of public and tribal resources, and to enhance the sustainability of rural communities.

At the center of it are water and fish, and like the various Klamath Basin communities, all parts of the Agreement are interconnected. As famed naturalist John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Agricultural irrigation circles in the Klamath. image: Greg Bedinger/LightHawk

Once seated on opposite sides of a courtroom, tribal advocates, farmers and ranchers now sat together in front of an enthralled LightHawk audience and recounted how they were able to come together as friends and allies to forge the Agreement. LightHawk program flights over the Klamath Basin helped illuminate the interconnectedness of the river and the land and animals it supports, as well as strengthen the common ground that unites the seemingly diverse stakeholders in the area.