August 1, 2001
Are you for humans or for suckerfish? That's the issue in Klamath
Falls, Oregon, where armed U.S. federal marshals are guarding the
irrigation canal gates to keep the river from flowing to 1,400 farms
that will soon be out of business if they don't get water.
On July 12, Oregon's U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) offered
Amendment 899 to release the river water to the farmers. That should
have been a no-brainer -- what could be easier than choosing between
desperate farmers and a couple of ugly fish?
Smith's amendment lost on a roll call vote in which all Democrats
except two (Wyden and Conrad) sided with the suckerfish, and all
Republicans except three (Chafee, Specter and Fitzgerald) sided with
the humans. For the Democrats, radical environmentalism trumps common
Next time somebody asks what compassionate conservatism means, be
sure to taunt the Democrats about this vote. The farms are suffering a
drought, but the Senate Democrats are suffering a drought of common
The farmers are being left high and dry because the Fish and
Wildlife Service says that the suckerfish is an endangered species and
needs more water. A federal court agreed, ruling that, under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA), the fish have more rights than the
The farmers who own the land in the Klamath Basin were given water
rights from the Klamath Lake by the Reclamation Act of 1902, and those
families have plowed the same land for 100 years. The government
encouraged veterans to homestead the land and lured them with promises
of water rights forever.
In this very dry area of Oregon, the flow of irrigation water is
essential to the livelihood of the farmers, their ability to provide
for their families, and their very way of life. In the current
standoff, many have already been forced to sell their cattle, let
pastures and hay fields go brown, and forgo plantings of potatoes,
grain and other crops.
The Endangered Species Act, enacted by Congress in 1977, gives
federal bureaucrats the power to classify subspecies of plant or animal
life as "endangered" and then regulate citizen activity in the
particular watersheds or geographic regions inhabited by the endangered
The farmers petitioned for relief from the "God Squad," a special
group of seven cabinet-level federal officials who have the power to
overturn an ESA ruling if special hardship can be proven. The God
Squad has heard only two cases since 1964 and didn't grant relief in
Secretary Gale A. Norton said the God Squad will not convene
because of a technicality in the Klamath Falls request. The Bush
Administration ducked out of dealing with this issue on the ground that
the petitioners didn't have standing to complain.
The ESA regulation is estimated to cause $250 million in economic
losses to the region. The communities cannot survive without the
farmers, and 220,000 acres of farmland cannot survive without the
Secretary Norton says she will try to get Congress to appropriate
$20 million in disaster relief. What a cop out! There's no reason to
lay the financial burden on the taxpayers when a no-cost opening of the
canal gates would solve the problem.
On my radio talk show last week, a guy called in who had been
driven out of Klamath Valley a decade ago when the same ESA shut down
the area's timber industry in order to protect the spotted owl.
Agriculture emerged as the new industry, and now the EPA wants to close
it down, too.
The media have given significant coverage to the demonstrations
against the G-8 in Genoa but have generally ignored the dramatic
confrontations between hundreds of Oregon citizens and armed U.S.
marshals in Klamath Falls. What do these Americans have to do to get
the attention of the media and the public: resort to violence?
It's time for the American people to rise up against the abusive
way that the radical environmentalists, armed with government power,
have stripped property rights from law-abiding property owners. This
is not a battle between man and the environment; it's a battle between
landowners and the totalitarian state that seeks to destroy rural
The radical environmentalists will be glad if the farming families
are forced off the land. They would like to turn the area into a
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an important "takings" case in
the fall coming out of regulations on private property at Lake Tahoe.
The bottom-line question is, must the government comply with the Fifth
Amendment provision that private property shall not "be taken for
public use, without just compensation"?
We hope the Court will uphold the Constitution. But it will be
too late for the Klamath Falls farmers unless the Bush Administration
moves immediately to stop the costly EPA arrogance.
Let the Irrigation Water Flow in the Klamath Basin of Oregon
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources
Environmentalists' goal: Depopulate the countryside.