News from the Front #51:
D.C. to Klamath Farmers: Drop Dead
On Saturday, June 16, 2001, the House Committee on Resources held a field hearing in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I wasn't at the hearing, so this article is based on the witness statements and news reports. Only four members of the fifty-two member committee deigned to attend, all Republicans. They did what Republicans do over and over again in Congressional hearings, giving a bully pulpit to their enemies, failing to expose their lies, and papering over the government problems that brought about the crisis in the first place.
Regrettably, the local politicians didn't do much better. Klamath County Commissioner Steve West managed to point out that the sucker biological opinion was bogus, but failed, like every other witness, to observe that both the suckers and the coho are not endangered at all. (Bob Gasser, not a politician, did dare to denounce the sucker listing as "mistaken".) Even the biologist hired by the irrigators, David Vogel, did not denounce the sucker and coho listings as outright fraud. Rather, he said, "mistakes" were made in the biological opinions addressing the "needs" of the fish; "mistakes" that could all be cleared up if we just had more scientists providing "peer review" and playing nicely together.
The Bush Administration representative, Sue Wooldridge (testimony is not available online) was quick to jump on the peer review bandwagon, even though Representative Walden pointed out that the relevant biological opinion had undergone peer review. In fact, ecological science is a rotted mess, with the so-called "scientists" demonstrating allegiance to environmentalist ideals, rather than objective reality. So long as these "scientists" are treated as a priestly caste whose reasoning cannot be questioned by the laity, natural resource management decisions will continue to drift toward the conservation biologist ideal: hands off everything.
"We've got to get to the point where science is above question", said Representative Walden, failing to recognize that this is precisely what led to the problem in the first place. If any citizen could walk into federal court and force federal officials to justify their junk science in front of a jury, almost none of it would stand up. But citizens can't argue science in court, because the courts don't think it's their job to protect citizens from government junk science. So much for the rule of law.
So citizens have to protect themselves without the law. In a a lawless society, one way of doing that is begging the people with power to help you. That seemed to be the primary focus of the witnesses, nearly all of whom wanted money. John Crawford lamented the disproportionate focus upon the Klamath Basin, and general problems with poor science, but didn't come right out and say that the fish weren't endangered at all, or that the water wouldn't help them at all. David Solem pointed out that the farmers had been cooperating with the Feds for years:
"Over the years, we supported numerous restoration projects, including the removal of over 20,000 acres of farmland for the purpose of creating wetlands – wetlands the USFWS said would solve water quality problems in Upper Klamath Lake. Each time the USFWS wanted to acquire another parcel, they promised us that particular acquisition would solve the problem, and that it would reduce further regulations. We supported every request. They failed to live up to their promise – each time."
One conclusion the Committee might draw from this testimony is that the Klamath farmers are slow learners, and can be screwed again and again. The excellent reporting of J.J. Johnson in the Sierra Times, which the Committee probably won't read, might warn them that this may not be true much longer.
Yet many in the Klamath Basin appear to believe the biggest lie of all: that even in good water years, there is just not enough water to go around. This, of course, is the constant refrain of Governor Kitzhaber and his environmentalist and fishing industry allies. But the Project ran for decades, enriching the fish and wildlife of the Klamath Basin and the farmers; only distant governments have changed. If a crowd of hobos showed up in Klamath Falls and said, "You all are using too much land; there's not enough and you have to give us some of it", everybody would recognize they had a hobo problem, not a land problem. The Klamath Basin farmers have a government problem, not a water problem. It is truly a dry year, but that's why we have junior water rightholders.
Commissioner West even declared that the water in the Klamath Basin has been over-promised since the "Federal Government made promises for water in treaties with Tribes in the 1860s". In fact, the Federal Government made no such promises. Article 1 of the 1864 treaty with the Klamath Tribe reserved to the Tribe the exclusive right to hunt, fish and gather on its reservation, and said nothing about water. In 1901, the United States bought "all their claim, right, title and interest" to 621,824 acres of the reservation. Thereafter, in 1954, Congress terminated federal supervision of the Klamath Tribe, and much of the remaining former reservation lands were sold, and the rest transferred to a private trustee. In 1969, the United States paid another $4.2 million for the land it had already bought in 1901.
The only "promises for water" the United States ever made are found in the decisions of federal judges who created water rights out of the whole cloth, in decisions just as bogus, in their own way, as the Endangered Species Act listings. The Tribal water rights do nothing to enhance the Tribal take of fish and game, their entire reason for being. Bill Gaines of the California Waterfowl Association explained that "[r]emoving wildlife-friendly agriculture from the Upper Klamath Basin . . .would gut our Pacific Flyway waterfowl resource by eliminating roughly half of the food base annually available to these birds". And the water control measures are as likely to kill fish as help them. The real beneficiaries of the stolen water hide behind the Tribe and the fish; PacifiCorp, for example, can make up to $2 million a day from water taken "for the Tribe" or "for the fish" and dumped downriver.
As a bipartisan group in the California Assembly recently recognized by introducing Assembly Joint Resolution 14, the solution to the Klamath farmers' problem is obvious: a "God Squad" exemption from the Endangered Species Act. (Oregon's legislature is conspicuously silent.) But the Bush Administration doesn't want to help because, as Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) told one reporter: "If Bush were to take action, the major media would be all over him."
The Klamath folk must all hold the the President in higher regard than their own farms and families, because not one of them begged that the Administration invoke the God Squad, at least in the prepared statements. Ironically, the only witness who talked about the God Squad was Andy Kerr. "Our attorneys are salivating at the prospect of the invoking the God Squad in this case", he said. If the Bush Administration is afraid of environmentalist attorneys, maybe the Justice Department should just let the irrigators hire lawyers for them. I'm sure they can find some who aren't afraid.
As far as the news reports indicate, Representative Walden still doesn't understand the God Squad issue. President Bush, he said, "has to uphold the law until 'new science' comes in on the matter". But President Bush can exempt the project from the ESA no matter how many fish the scientists say he'll kill -- that's the whole point of the God Squad. Perhaps Representative Walden is afraid of the media too, and is feigning ignorance. I wonder whether he will be disappointed to know that this morning's New York Times reports that he "asked Gale A. Norton, the Interior Secretary, to convene the Endangered Species Committee." If only it were true. Unfortunately, this report, like much of what appears in the New York Times is pure fiction.
Spokesmen for the Klamath Tribe, the Yurok Tribe, and the fishermen got up and told the usual tired lies. There is not a shred of evidence to quantify the impact of Klamath Basin farming on Klamath River salmon runs. Indeed, comprehensive reviews of the status of Klamath Basin stocks identify dozens of causative factors in salmon decline, including overfishing, the construction of Link River Dam in 1895, and warmer weather. Irrigation is background noise against these factors.
Klamath County residents ought to heed the words of a different Tribal spokesman, Russell Means, veteran of the Wounded Knee occupation, who warns:
"See, the Indians weren't needed, we were in the way of commerce and progress. Well, now the family farmer, the family rancher, they're in the way of progress and commerce. They're no longer needed! The settler is no longer needed in America. And I tried to tell everyone in the 80s, and the 90s, and now in the new millennium, that everything that America is doing to the world and to the American people was first bred and born on an Indian reservation, and then exported. They perfect their colonial tactics on the American Indians, on the reservations, export it to the world and they've brought it home to roost on the American people. Like I say, the new Indians of rural America are the family farmer and family rancher. They're in the way, and so they're going to be gone. . . .and then the corporations will take over."
While the Feds take the land now with biological opinions instead of six-shooters, the SWAT teams were out in force again at the hearing to confirm the ultimate source of federal authority. Reliable sources suggest that one reason the leaders of the Klamath community don't encourage steps that might get the water flowing is that law enforcement agents visited them all and warned them that they would be held personally responsible for any resulting violence.
I don't advocate violence, but I do advocate civil disobedience, in ways that the urban majorities cannot ignore. Unless and until the Klamath farmers take their problems to the cities, those problems won't be important enough for high-ranking federal officials or Members of Congress to resolve. Congressman Pombo admitted as much when he said: "Maybe if we shut off drinking water to Washington, D.C., it will generate the kind of attention for this problem to get some changes." The begging strategy, by contrast, is destined for failure.
Unless and until the Klamath farmers begin to adopt the mass protest tactics of the leftists, they are destined to become more roadkill on the highway to a hellish future -- centralized command-and-control mismanagement of our Nation's natural resources and every other former area of strength in the American economy. They need to start treating their enemies like enemies, and figuring out who their friends really are. It's time to choose sides and take a stand, not hold hands with the Nature Conservancy and sing Kumbaya.
That sort of sentiment was crystallized in the testimony of high school principal Sharron Molder, wishing that Congress could find a solution "that will benefit all sides". That goal is impossible. The environmentalists and the fishermen are just plain wrong. Some are stupid, some are pawns of hidden interests, and some are just plain evil human-hating zealots. The compromise strategy never works with these folks, because they always want more. Klamath farmers ought to have learned that by now. But as long as our government schools continue to teach compromise with evil, our future remains dim.
Certainly there is little hope, as Representative Walden wistfully declared before the hearing, that the hearing is going to lead to "common-sense reform of the ESA". Common sense is dead. The Democrats aren't going to lift a finger to help rural, Republican areas, their practice ever since the New Deal programs were subverted to build the great Democratic machines of the cities (and probably before that as well). Unlike the Republicans, they understand the uses and misuses of power. In an alternate universe where rural areas supported Democrats and cities Republicans, a Democratic president would give the Klamath Basin Project an ESA exemption in a heartbeat. If I represented the Klamath Basin as a Republican, and my President and his Administration were treating my constituents (and all the West) as shabbily as this one seems to be, I'd start talking about starting a new political party that is willing to fight the War on the West. It's not like the Klamath Basin is the only place where the federal government is running amok. Many will stand with you when you make a stand.
© James Buchal, June 20, 2001
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