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March 30, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

Will there be Salmon?

10 Questions for Guy AlainAmoussou

The Weekly Wrap

JURY DUTY: After a preliminary gathering downstairs Thursday morning, including the mandatory movie on the importance of the jury-based judicial system (finally updated from the Fess Parker video they used for years), we'd filled every seat in Courtroom No. 8 -- even the jury box. When the first 12 candidates were randomly drawn, those in the box were sent to the back for musical chairs. Much of Day One was spent with the Honorable Judge John Feeney acting as host, asking questions of the prospectives with the demeanor of a kindly uncle, one who perhaps is trained as a psychologist, extracting intimate details about the lives of potential jurors.

As he worked his way around the jury box, we got a glimpse of life in Humboldt. There was the single mom working two jobs struggling to pay the rent uncertain about the impact of 10 days without work. One woman noted that she "lives in a bad neighborhood," where one tenant in her apartment complex may have murdered another. Another woman, her face a road map of a hard life, spoke of her youngest son's five years in San Quentin for "cultivation," and later mentioned that he is currently "missing." When the judge gently delved deeper, she offered her theory that he'd left town after a felonious traffic accident that could have sent him back to prison, but she also noted that, "some say he was murdered." Either way, she hasn't heard from him for eight years.

The defense attorney took over for his round of questions on Friday. Juror No. 1 was dismissed after reporting that she had "put pencil to paper" and determined that she could not afford the time. Juror No. 9, a young luthier, obviously wanted out. Because of a twice-removed brush with a crime similar to the one about to be tried, he declared, "I think I would be biased," and was dismissed.

Another prospective juror No. 9 took his place, a 50-ish gent with a walrus mustache. When the judge got to the question about close encounters with crime, "yourself, family of friends," he said he'd rather not discuss it in open court. The judge, the attorneys and the defendant left the room, and we prospectives let our minds wander. After two days of quietly listening, multiple conversations broke out, all of them, by mandate, unrelated to the case at hand.

Deputy Sheriff D. Clark poked his head in and, after wondering aloud about the relative chaos, suggested he might get some dust rags and put us to work tidying up. He then noted that it really would not be necessary due to plans for this coming Friday, March 31. The judge had previously noted that it was a holiday and court would not be in session. Clark explained that it was Cesar Chavez Day, and, since the sheriff's department does not have the day off, they have made plans. The prisoners housed upstairs in the Humboldt County Jail will be brought downstairs and given dust rags, furniture polish, mops and buckets to spiff up the courtrooms where they were found guilty. "It's a captive work force. Why not?" he declared. Moments later prospective Juror No. 9 et al. emerged from private quarters; the man with the walrus moustache was thanked and dismissed and another prospective Juror No. 9 took his place.

MINOR SALE: The Minor Theatre Corp., which owns four local cinemas, is in escrow to Oregon-based Coming Attractions Theatres. Larry McLennen, president of Coming Attractions, confirmed that his company, which owns 16 theatres in Oregon, California and Washington, is buying the Humboldt theatre chain and said the the sale should be finalized April 10 or 11.

McLennen said Tuesday he would not release many details about the sale, but affirmed that the Minor in Arcata would remain an art house theatre, and that The Movies would likely continue to show films for younger audiences. The Humboldt International Short Film Festival and other film fests will continue to be shown at the Minor, he said. "I think the area will be pleased with our acquisition," he affirmed. David and Louanna Phillips, owner of the Minor Theatres could not be reached for comment before deadline. McLennen said he has known the Phillipses for "quite a while" and that over time their "discussions evolved into a buy-sell discussion." Phillips will not be part of the ownership or operating scenario post-sale, McLennen said.

DOGGONE?: Kathleen Kistler, who lives at Big Lagoon, for years has watched dogs willfully -- happily, rightfully, she might say -- ignore the confusing fact that part of Big Lagoon beach is owned by the dog-friendly county, but most is owned by the dog-banning state. They just race, paws over tails, across such nebulous boundaries in their pursuit of waves, flying foam, Frisbees and birds. Well, hopefully not birds, but these are dogs we're talking about.

And that is why the state of California bans dogs -- at least on the books --from all of its parks, "to protect the resources," says Marilyn Murphy, superintendent of the North Coast Redwood sector of the California State Park system. At Big Lagoon, federally protected snowy plovers nest on the north spit, which is about four miles long. "And to the south, we have some seal pups that haul out," she said. The beach is accessed by a 400-foot county-owned section of beach in-between the state sections, which includes a campground and parking area. Dogs are allowed on the county section.

Kistler has observed that the state doesn't enforce the dog ban on its stretches of Big Lagoon. And so she got nervous a couple of weeks ago when she saw official-types out at the beach surveying the boundaries, preparing to put up signage. Kistler worried that the state means to actually start patrolling out there and issuing citations to dog owners. So she sounded the alarm to fellow animal lovers. Later, she said she'd just heard from someone in the county that maybe the state would continue to look the other way, after all. That rumor couldn't be confirmed. "But they wouldn't want to advertise it, would they?" Kistler said.

However, county supervisor Jill Geist did say that if the state intends to start enforcing its dog ban, it ought to at least hold a public meeting first. She added, "The county is not proposing any changes" to its Big Lagoon dog policies.

If the state does crack down out there at Big Lagoon, Kistler hopes it relaxes the rules in the winter so people could walk their dogs north, when snowy plovers aren't nesting. "Otherwise, if they enforce the ban, people and their dogs would be forced to walk south [which is private beach owned by her and some other residents of Big Lagoon] and it's very dangerous" because of bluffs that abut the ocean. "And there might be deaths."

DIE FOX DIE: When a rabid fox bites a person, that's not big news, but when a lady kills a fox with a rake, now that's something. How exactly a person can kill a fox with a rake, no one was able to confirm. Do you brain it with the steel butt, or swing for the neck, prong-side out, hoping for jugular connection? And why a rake? Why not a pitchfork or a lawn mower?

Somehow, a Willow Creek woman did it last Tuesday afternoon. She killed a fox with a rake after it scurried out from under her pickup truck and bit her hand. However the carnage transpired afterward, the affair was no doubt grim. Brent Whitener, HumCo's Vector Control Officer, picked up the fox approximately two hours after the woman -- whose name is being withheld -- killed the animal. Tests revealed it was positive for rabies and the woman promptly began a series of rabies exposure shots. Whitener said the animal was four and a half pounds and did not look particularly unhealthy. "I've seen fox that will show a lot of markers that it had a bad, bad existence," Whitener said. "In order to get rabies the fox probably has to get it from a skunk, which means they're competing for the same food source, which means the fox has adapted its lifestyle. Maybe it was hit by a car and injured, so it can't hunt in its usual foxy ways. It has to be more reliant on fighting over a cat's food dish or something like that."

Thirteen animals have been tested this year, and two positive for rabies -- a bat and the fox. Whitener said the fox was young and did not appear to have had kits. Mary Roberts, owner of Ace Hardware in Willow Creek, lives in the neighborhood where the attack happened. She said there are an "extreme amount" of foxes in the area. "They're very nervous little animals," she said. Some city slickers have been feeding the foxes, she said, though she didn't blame them seeing as how foxes are "very cute" and have fluffy tails. "I was just happy it was an adult and not child [that was bitten]. They would fall and cry and be bitten several times, maybe."


Will there be salmon?


The Pacific Ocean may be closed to salmon fishing this year, and fisherman are demanding that the federal government finally attend to the behemoths they say have led their industry to the brink of disaster -- the fish-blocking, water-mucking old dams on the Klamath River (although the dams operators may beg to differ on some of these points).

Ocean commercial and sport fishermen, along with commercial and subsistence tribal river fishermen from the Hupa, Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribes and others, rallied in Oregon and at the state capitol in Sacramento earlier this month. And on Tuesday, they rallied outside the Pacific Fisheries Management Council's meeting in Santa Rosa.

A ban on ocean salmon fishing along the Oregon and California coast is one of three fishing season options being weighed by the PFMC, which meets April 2-7 to hash out a final decision. The other two options, only slightly more palatable, offer variations of severe restrictions. All are aimed at protecting the Klamath River Chinook, whose number of returning fall spawners have dropped in the past few years. The PFMC's March 28 meeting was one of a couple of public sessions before it entered its week-long deliberations. After that, it will make recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which makes the final call.

Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishing Association, said prior to the rally that the feds need to embrace a long-term solution -- namely, removing four Klamath River dams that for decades have blocked spawning salmon from upper reaches and tributaries as well as contributed to poor water quality downriver.

"We would like to be able to fish this season, but that is not what this rally is about," Hudson said. "This is about bringing all the diverse interests together to make a unified statement to the federal government that we need to fix that river. We need to have enough water for the fish -- clean water, and cool water. It makes no sense to curtail fishing in the ocean if the surviving fish from the ocean return to the river where they die, where they cannot spawn."

He and many others blame the dams for encouraging toxic algae growth in a chief upstream reservoir as well as in the river. And, regulation of the water flows through Iron Gate Dam has often led to insufficient flows for a healthy downstream fishery. Major fish die offs in the river in 2002 and 2003 have been blamed on low flows, overly warm water and a parasite that already stressed fish fell victim to.

Short term, some fishermen are seeking federal disaster relief to allay the costs to the fishing and support industries incurred by a depressed or closed season. Others are pushing for an emergency rule to allow them to fish even just a little this year. Eureka salmon and crab fisherman Dave Bitts said that if he were offered a choice between no fishing coupled with disaster relief, or a little fishing and no disaster relief, he'd choose a little fishing.

"It gives fishermen and support businesses a chance to survive," he said. "If there's no fishing, they're belly up." He said disaster relief might not be enough to encourage all the support industries to stick around for better times. And he said the effects of fishing a few thousand Klamath Chinook wouldn't "make that big a difference biologically to justify terminating a fishery." He said there've been even smaller runs of fall spawners in the past. "There's been at least three years of significantly fewer spawners than what we're proposing this year that produced very well for the next cycle."

Hudson, however, doesn't have much hope even in the reduced-fishing scenario. "Even if we get an emergency regulation passed so we can go fishing, we would be so restricted that we would be operating at 25 percent of our income. That's the commercial fishermen." The sports fishermen -- party boats, guides -- would likewise suffer. "And the tribal fishermen -- they all live off the fish." By law, tribal fishermen are allotted 50 percent of the fishable Klamath stock, if there is any. "In previous years, we all had a pie to fight over, over who gets the biggest slice. This year, there's only one piece. We'd all go hungry."

That's why at Tuesday's rally he was pushing for serious attention to a long-term solution -- removing the dams. "The dams ... were put in with the promise that they would have fish passage," Hudson said. "That never happened. They provide minimal electricity, they're antiquated, and there's no fish passage."

Bitts, who served 25 years on the Klamath Task Force -- formed ostensibly to fix the river's problems, but falling short of the goal -- agrees that some dams have to be dealt with. "As long as the two Copcos [I and II] and Iron Gate are there, we're gonna have the serious water quality problems on the river," Bitts said. But, he said, he doesn't want to put out of business any upstream farmers "who do it just to breathe -- cuz that's how I feel about fishing." He praised a recent joint declaration by three former Klamath River system adversaries -- the Yurok and Karuk tribes in the lower basin, and the Klamath Water Users Association (upper basin irrigators) -- to work together, civilly, toward a solution amenable to all.

The dams have held center stage especially over the past year, as they undergo re-licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The dams are operated by PacifiCorp, owned by Scottish Power up until last week when new owner, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, took over. In tandem with that formal re-licensing process, Klamath River stakeholders -- from upper basin irrigators to downstream fishermen -- have been meeting in independent, less-formal sessions.

What MidAmerican management -- some members of which have been freshly installed at its new subsidiary, PacifiCorp -- has to say about dam removal remains vague. Such inquiries are referred to PacifiCorp's old guard, for now. PacifiCorp's David Kvamme said re-licensing negotiations between stakeholders are confidential.

"We're aware that many parties would like to remove our dams," he said. "And we haven't said no in the settlement process. We want to keep our options open." He said PacifiCorp has agreed to remove three dams -- in Washington state, Oregon and Utah -- but that they were smaller than the dams on the Klamath. "At 151 megawatts, the Klamath Project is the third-largest hydroelectric project we operate, and it supports 70,000 residential customers a year. Some people say that's insignificant, but it's not to those 70,000 customers."

While the dams issue promises a protracted debate, a related issue -- fishermen's, tribes' and conservationists' demands for increased flows in the river below Iron Gate -- met with victory on Monday when a federal judge ruled that enough water must be released in drought years or years of average rainfall -- even if it means Klamath Basin farmers get no water -- to support the coho salmon fishery. The coho is federally listed as a threatened species. That ruling, in turn, could benefit the Chinook and other fish species. Earthjustice, a legal advocacy group, filed the suit on behalf of fishing and conservation groups and tribes.

But while that's good news for future seasons, at least as far as water quantity is concerned, it doesn't much help matters for fishermen this year -- on the ocean, or in the river. Dave Hillemeier, a fisheries biologist with the Yurok tribe, said the tribe faces a second year of no commercial fishing, as well as drastically reduced subsistence fishing.

"The one thing we are certain of is that the season is going to be so limited we won't meet their subsistence needs," Hillemeier said. "We also know there will be hardship with the spring Chinook fishery." While federal agencies don't manage for spring Chinook the way they do for fall Chinook, the Yurok tribe does self-impose restrictions when the runs are low. This year, the tribe will close the river fishery for three days a week to protect the spring Chinook as well as green sturgeon.



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