Klamath Basin Initiative

The Problem

The Klamath Basin has become a North American tragedy.

Just a few years ago, millions of waterfowl and other wildlife used this massive wetland oasis and its two signature national wildlife refuges, Lower Klamath and Tule Lake. Today, these remarkable wetlands that are some of the most important for waterfowl in North America are mostly dry and devoid of birds due to a complicated mix of regulatory challenges, years of drought and other factors. 

The few birds that still use this area find poor habitat, little food to refuel themselves on their migrations, and they’re often subjected to lethal disease outbreaks they cannot escape. One of the country’s most legendary waterfowl-hunting destinations is now just a shadow of its former glory. 

But there is hope on the horizon. Ducks Unlimited is building a future in the Klamath Basin where birds will once again fill the skies.

The Solution

Ducks Unlimited’s ambitious Klamath Basin Initiative seeks to revive wetlands capable of supporting thriving waterfowl populations, productive farmland and abundant fisheries.

As the world leader in wetlands conservation, Ducks Unlimited is building a shared vision in the Klamath Basin, centered around wetlands. We are bringing together farmers and ranchers, Klamath Basin tribes, government agencies, private industry and other nonprofit organizations. Our goal: Bring water back to Klamath Basin wetlands that have gone dry and restore thousands of acres of additional habitat.

Work is underway on a massive habitat restoration project on Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge that will restore 14,000 acres of streamside habitat that will benefit fish, water quality and waterfowl. It’s the largest project Ducks Unlimited has undertaken in the Klamath Basin and one of the biggest DU projects ever on the Pacific Flyway.

We won’t rest until Klamath Basin wetlands, including Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges, are once again havens for millions of waterfowl.


The upper Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northeastern California was once a waterfowl paradise. Just a few decades ago, Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges supported tens of thousands of acres of permanent and seasonal wetlands. Staggering numbers of the Pacific Flyway’s waterfowl used these habitats. For instance, in the 1950s, nearly three million northern pintail alone were counted in one season on Tule Lake’s Sump 1A. That’s more pintail than are on the continent today.

A large percentage of California’s mallards also traditionally raised young or molted on Lower Klamath and Tule each year. Due in large part to the refuges drying up, California’s resident mallard population is well below its long term average. A dry Klamath Basin impacts the entire Pacific Flyway. Having dry Klamath Basin wetlands puts additional strain on other key flyway habitats that are also struggling, such as California’s Central Valley and Utah’s Great Salt Lake.


People in California and Oregon would also benefit from a healthy Klamath Basin watershed with functioning wetlands supporting thriving populations of birds, fish and other wildlife. 

Water benefits: Wetlands provide flood protection for communities. Wetlands recharge groundwater used to irrigate crops and for drinking. Wetlands are nature’s water purifiers that clean impurities from streams and rivers and from groundwater.

Fisheries benefits: Healthy wetlands would help struggling native fish that are important to the economies and cultures of the Klamath Basin. Wetlands have traditionally provided habitat for endangered Klamath Basin suckers, fish that are culturally important to local Native American tribes. Klamath Basin wetlands likewise once provided habitat for salmon that also are integral to Native American tribes as well as recreational and commercial anglers. The Klamath River once supported a salmon fishery that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for Oregon and California communities. Now, fishing seasons are regularly closed. Klamath Basin agriculture would benefit from more reliable water supplies if fish recover with the help of healthy wetlands.  

Tourism benefits: Wetlands enhance a region’s quality of life and boost the local economy by creating recreational opportunities through activities such as waterfowl hunting and wildlife viewing. When their wetlands have water, more than 170,000 people visit Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuges each year and spend their money at local businesses. 


Ducks Unlimited believes the only way water will return to the refuges and to other wetlands in the Klamath Basin is if there’s a consensus in the region to prioritize these critically important habitats.

Our strategy is to understand, develop and implement collaborative solutions in which fish, agriculture and waterfowl all benefit from healthy Klamath Basin wetlands.

To forge alliances around that shared vision, DU has built relationships with Klamath Basin tribes, farmers, refuge managers, state and federal regulators and other partners. 

DU also is working with public lands managers and agricultural and tribal interests throughout the Klamath Basin watershed on habitat projects improving more than 20,000 acres with benefits for people, waterfowl, fish and other wildlife species that traditionally relied on the region’s historic wetlands. 



No other nonprofit has built the relationships and that Ducks Unlimited has earned in the Klamath Basin. As The World Leader in Wetlands Conservation, our track record of restoring and protecting wetlands in and out of the Klamath Basin is equally unmatched. Several major projects completed, underway or breaking ground soon highlight DU’s unwavering commitment to the people and wildlife of the Klamath Basin. 

Building a wetland-focused future for the Klamath Basin won’t be easy after so many years of hardship and conflict. But we can do it. We are doing it. And with your help, we will succeed.


To contribute toward the Klamath Initiative in California, contact Anne Hansen at ahansen@ducks.org or 901-605-3647. In Oregon, contact Garrett Coussens at gcoussens@ducks.org or 509-423-3954.