A flood tide of heartache made the national news on May 7 as an estimated 13,000 Americans tried to bring attention to what's wrong with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and how it is being implemented. Farmers in Klamath Falls, Oregon have been denied water to irrigate 250,000 acres of cropland and pasture throughout the basin. This decision affects 1,400 farm families directly, as well as several counties in northern California and southern Oregon.
Denial of water, which the farmers have had rights to for nearly 100 years, was based on court rulings that have found that fish two suckers and the coho salmon have priority over the farmers' water rights. Ironically, wildlife refuges are also going to have reduced water supplies, and wildlife will not have the food supply the farm crops have so generously supplied to their habitat for decade upon decade.
Along with no water, and reduced food for wildlife comes the anticipated loss of soil due to wind erosion and no cover crops. It is estimated that 410,000 tons of topsoil will be lost! How's that for conservation in the year 2001!
Using the simplest of mechanisms, buckets of water were passed hand over hand from the Upper Klamath Lake to the main canal of the irrigation system of the Klamath Basin in Oregon. This most honorable of efforts was an attempt to make our nation fully aware of the social/cultural crucifixion being visited upon hardworking Americans.
The immediate result of this public demonstration is the scheduling of congressional hearings in Klamath Falls by the House Resource Committee. Congressional people want to look closely at how such a tragedy based on law could have happened.
Vice President Dick Cheney had himself reviewed the situation and the court rulings in an attempt to find a legal way to keep the water flowing. In keeping with this Administration's respect for public law, it was determined that as things stood there was no legal way to prevent the action.
While this is unfortunate, it is a harsh reality that should work in the American public's short-term favor. It provides a large-scale example of the problems and absurdities with the ESA. The effort now should be to develop this short-term focus on ESA reform into a long-term attention span inside the beltway.
The problems with the Endangered Species Act are threefold. First the wording of the law. Second the way it is being interpreted and reinterpreted to meet extreme environmental agendas. Third and most important, is the lack of political determination to fix this crucifying force which is destroying rural America's economics and cultures.
Granted there have been some attempts to improve this law within the last five years. However, the fundamental reasons for failure; political staying power, the lack of direct negative ESA impacts in highly urban areas with lots of votes, and the sad reality that environmental issues in general have been 'throw away' issues for many conservatives who seem to under value the contributions of rural America to the economics and culture of this nation.
Having participated in numerous conversations over the past seven years, with people on The Hill about amending the ESA, I have been struck by the "back burner mentality" regarding this law. Again and again, the same excuses have been laid on the table. Rhetoric such as 'there just isn't enough political horsepower (votes), or 'the enviros won't agree to secure private property protections'; or we just can't get enough people on The Hill to pay attention to this issue, they just aren't interested. The litany of 'why nots' goes on and on.
What is especially interesting is that the counties of rural America played more then a significant part in this past election. This should demonstrate to private citizen and politician alike that 'horsepower' exists in rural America even if it can't be found inside the beltway. Asking themselves, how would this election have turned out without rural votes should send a first class message to policy makers.
By not fixing the Endangered Species Act elected officials are telling rural America that they must be satisfied with a second class citizenship. That although their votes count, their rights as Americans under law do not count nearly as much. By not fixing the problems with this law, elected officials are legislatively devaluing rural America. We count less because there are less of us .what a way to run a country.
But I'll put my money on rural America overcoming this obstacle. History is on their side .because without rural America we can have no nation.
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