National Geographic Society Newsroom

Fish and Cattle Fans Cooperate in Klamath Basin

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...

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.

LightHawk volunteer pilot Jane Nicolai (left) poses with her passengers including local ranchers and media. image: Greg Bedinger/LightHawk
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
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
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.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of the world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Bev Gabe
After spending a year and four days in the extreme cold and white of Antarctica, I came back to the world a changed person. My passion is to share stories of people doing extraordinary things and I've done that since 2008 as the chief storyteller for LightHawk. LightHawk is a unique non-profit that grants flights to conservation groups through a network of volunteer pilots. Nearly everyday LightHawk donates educational, scientific and photography flights covering the U.S., Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk volunteer pilots, aircraft and resources help to tip the balance toward sustainability for every major environmental issue within our targeted areas of focus. My favorite part of flying at 1,000 feet in a small aircraft is seeing how that perspective changes how people see their communities and empowers them to take positive action on behalf of conservation. Taking off is pretty cool too.