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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Klamath River Renewal Battle

Photo of the Klamath River form

River of Renewal traces the longtime battle
over salmon and water in the Klamath Basin

The Klamath Basin in Northern California and southeastern Oregon is home to ranchers, farmers, commercial fisherman and the Yurok, Karuk and Hupa tribes. Since the mid-1800s, these groups have vied for rights to the Klamath River and its tributaries, which are vital spawning habitat for wild Pacific salmon. Hydroelectric dams have impeded the salmons’ ability to migrate between the ocean and their breeding grounds, and low river levels resulting from agricultural use have caused the mass death of migrating fish.

Remarkably, after years of conflict and negotiations, these groups recently came to agreement to share water and improve the river habitat. In September, the Secretary of the Interior announced an agreement with the PacifiCorp electric power company, based in Portland, Ore., and the governors of California and Oregon to remove the four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. River of Renewal, winner of Best Documentary at the American Indian Film Festival in 2008, traces the tumultuous back story of these accords. Presented by Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) and the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) for Native American Heritage Month, the 55-minute documentary begins airing in November. Check your local public television station’s schedule for broadcast dates and times.

Producer and narrator Jack Kohler (Yurok/Karuk/Hupa) travels back to his ancestral land to explore the history of the conflict from a Native perspective. He learns about cultural traditions that revolve around salmon and listens to his people talk about their long struggle to establish fishing rights and mend river conditions. River of Renewal captures eight years of protests, meetings and political action concerning the Klamath and provides viewers with an insider’s view of the saga.

“The dams were built in a time when jobs were needed and sources of energy were scarce,” Kohler says. “Now we realize the mistakes that were made. It is time to fix those mistakes. How can we make the world an ecologically sound and environmentally safe place to live? In one century, we have wreaked havoc on our mother earth, and now it is time to Pikiawish—renew the world.”

The River of Renewal website offers viewers more information about the new agreement, a guide to taking political action in favor of dam removal, and a guide to methods of conflict resolution that helped resolve the Klamath clashes. Visitors can also learn more about salmon, the ecology of the Klamath Basin and tribal history. A viewer guide and other educational tools are available for educators and community groups.

River of Renewal, a Pikiawish Partners production in association with Specialty Studios, is produced by Jack Kohler, Steve Michelson and Stephen Most and directed by Carlos Bolado. Major funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Web site:

Jack Kohler has been a resident of Sonoma County since 1986. He began his film making career in 1997 working on the Production team of "Grand Avenue" and then getting a small supporting role in that film. The first film he co-produced, "California's Lost Tribes" aired on PBS nationally in 2006 & 2007. It included the issues surrounding Indian Gaming, including key moments in the Rohnert Park Community meetings about the Graton Rancheria Casino. His new documentary "River of Renewal" was eight years in the making. It chronicles the on going battle over the resources of Northern California’s and Oregon’s Klamath Basin. The film reveals how different dominant groups over the generations have extracted resources from the Klamath Basin with disastrous consequences including the collapse of wild salmon populations. This collision between sustainability and exploitation of our precious and diminishing resources may result in the largest dam removal project in history and the restoration of a once vital river.

Image of dead salmon in Klamath River from:
An estimated 77,000 salmon washed up on the banks of the Klamath River. In 2006, the government declared a "commercial fishery failure" on the West Coast. Image: dead salmon line the banks of the Klamath River in Sept. 2002.

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