The Klamath Basin consists of numerous interlinking ecosystems. Expansive marshlands feed into the Klamath River which snakes its way through semi-arid hills, steep, lushly forested canyons, and over rocky waterfalls on its way to the Pacific Ocean. From its headwaters in the high desert of southern Oregon to its mouth in the temperate rainforest of Northern California, the Klamath River is home to diverse array of wildlife species. The Klamath Basin is particularly well known for its anadromous fish runs but in past decades, the Basin was probably better known for its waterfowl populations that relied on its waters as a stopover in their travels along the Pacific Flyway.
A story map, created by Jami Dennis and recently made available by Oregon State University, is a wonderful resource for those interested in learning more about Basin history and its role within the Pacific Flyway, a major thoroughfare for migratory birds. The Pacific Flyway is regularly utilized by as many as 274 species of waterfowl and seabirds during their seasonal migrations and extends from its northernmost edge in Alaska and Canada to its southern terminus in Patagonia. The Flyway is used by birds following seasonal feeding opportunities, traveling to breeding grounds, and moving to overwintering sites.
Wetlands, Waterbirds, and Water: A visual journey through a century of change presents the history of the Klamath Basin from the perspective of the birds. It begins with descriptions of the historical presence of migratory birds in the Upper Klamath Basin. Pictures of hunters displaying their take and women wearing hats festooned with wild bird feathers help illustrate the waterfowl abundance enjoyed by people at the turn of the 20th century. Overhunting is described as the first of a series of events that have impacted migratory birds that use the Upper Basin as a stop in their cross-continent travels. An estimated 5 million birds per year were being killed to supply the hat making industry
Wetlands does an excellent job of illustrating the history of the Upper Basin as various development and management projects transformed the ecologies of the area. Construction of the Klamath Reclamation Project, the construction of dams, and the draining of Tule Lake changed the hydrology of the basin as well as the opportunities to hunt and enjoy the migratory birds in the region.
Dennis’ work shows the relationship between waterfowl protection work and that of environmentalist and tribes to protect various fish species in the Basin. It demonstrates how environmental and irrigation concerns have been organized according to a hierarchy of perceived needs that has inadvertently pitted various interest groups against one another in their pursuit of water access.
The ongoing drought conditions experienced throughout Western states are impacting the Upper Basin’s ability to support migratory birds. The story map describes the drought as another instance of environmental disruption endured by birds that depend on the sanctuary historically provided by the Upper Basin. The need for environmental restoration and a brief description of the various groups contributing to restoration efforts in the Upper Basin rounds out the story map. The entirety of the piece is layered with excellent photography and nuanced, in-depth descriptions of the various factors impacting the region’s ability to support migratory birds. It is compelling, informative, and a joy to read. It offers additional complexity to our understanding of the interwoven ecologies of the Klamath Basin and draws attention to environmental realities that may surprise some readers.