How the Yurok Tribe is reclaiming the Klamath River
For the first time, the largest tribe in California has one of its own to lead its legal battles.
On a warm September Saturday in 2002, Amy Cordalis stood in a Yurok Tribal Fisheries Department boat on the Klamath River, in response to reports from fishermen that something was amiss on the river. On this stretch of the Yurok Reservation, the river was wide and deep, having wound its way from its headwaters at the Upper Klamath Lake, through arid south-central Oregon to the California coast. Cordalis, then 22, was a summer fish technician intern, whose job was to record the tribe’s daily catch. A college student in Oregon, she’d found a way to spend time with her family and be on the river she’d grown up with — its forested banks and family fishing hole drawing her back year after year.
But that morning, something was wrong. Cordalis watched as adult salmon, one after the other, jumped out of the water, mouths gaping, before plunging back into the river. Her father, Bill Bowers, who was gillnetting farther downriver, looked up to see a raft of salmon corpses floating around the bend. The carcasses piled up on the banks and floated in eddies, as seagulls swept inland to pick at the remains.