On May 7 Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers, whose way
of life is being exterminated as a result of federal interpretations of
the Endangered Species Act, formed a symbolic bucket brigade to dramatize their plight. Bucket
brigades have been a symbol of unified community action against threatened
disaster throughout the history of the American West
The 1,400 farms located in Siskiyou and Modoc County,
California, and Klamath County in Oregon, were homesteaded, in part, by
veterans of WWI and WWII at the special invitation of a grateful nation.
These veterans were enticed with the promise of a rich irrigated land in
which they could invest their blood, sweat and tears.
Local residents are now in shock at the decision by the
federal government to completely shut off the irrigation water that serves
more than 90% of the farmers. The decision, based on inflated claims to
minimum lake levels and downstream flows for threatened fish, leaves no
water to allocate to the other 6,000 water users, including several major
National Wildlife Refuges hosting migratory waterfowl. With the lakes and
reservoirs currently brimming with water, it is difficult for these small
family farmers and ranchers not to feel betrayed and abandoned by their
government. "What do I do now? How will we pay the bills? Where will
we go?" are common phrases hanging heavily in the air. With the
economy already stressed by decade long regulation and low prices for
crops, it is likely that almost 80% of these small operations could fail
this year if families can't farm.
The federal decision goes against the entire history of
the Klamath Basin. In 1905, California and Oregon ceded lake and marshland
to the federal government specifically for conversion to agricultural use
under the Newlands Reclamation Act. The Klamath Project then evolved into
a complex system of irrigation canals, dams, diversions and drains,
bringing life-giving water to crops grown in the some of the richest soil
in America. Water use rights under a bi-state compact set water use
priorities with agriculture both first and second in line, then recreation
and wildlife third.
The tri-county Klamath Basin produces $100 million in
hay, grains, and vegetables. This, in turn, produces an additional $250
million in economic activity in the various agriculturally dependent
communities throughout the region. Livestock herds, now being liquidated,
are worth another $100 million in replacement costs. Without farms,
thousands of farm workers will have no work. Without farmers to buy seed,
supplies and equipment, the infrastructure of small businesses that
support agriculture will collapse.
According to federal agencies, once a species has been
federally listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered
Species Act, it's alleged needs must come before the needs, rights and
property of individual Americans. In this limited water year, rather than
share the shortfall, it has been decided that sucker fish suddenly need
elevated lake levels and coho salmon need greatly increased downstream
flows. Because the federal government is involved in the mechanics of
distributing the farmer's and rancher's water through the Klamath Project,
it has decreed that fish come first over farms and families.
During past periods of low-water, such as 1992 and 1994,
Klamath farmers worked for balance, voluntarily supporting the water needs
of the waterfowl and wildlife refuges. When faced with another low-water
year this year, the Klamath Water Users developed a plan to share the
limited water among users. The plan, however, was rejected. Now, experts
predict 420,000 tons of topsoil will blow away this year, because farmers
without water cannot even plant cover crops to save
These families, their livelihood, lifestyle, hopes and
dreams, are being sacrificed to the inflexibility of a bad regulation -
the Endangered Species Act."
Excerpts from a Paragon Foundation Press Release
Klamath Basin farmers symbolically defied a federal ban
on irrigation by dumping 50 buckets of water into the A Canal. A crowd of
8000 people from all walks of life helped hand the buckets on a mile long
line from Lake Ewauna to a footbridge over the canal beside Klamath Union
High School. The crowd of supporters applauded as Jess Prosser, an
85-year-old World War II veteran who homesteaded on the Klamath Project,
drew the first of 50 buckets of water from the Veterans Park boat ramp at
Lake Ewauna Farmers hoped their symbolic defiance of a court order against
irrigation would be the "bucket heard íround the world."
With the sheriff's department here refusing to intervene, federal
officials asked for help today from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
and United States marshals after farmers, angry about being cut off from
irrigation water, opened an irrigation canal's headgate three times in the
past week. "We now have people who have entered federal property and
done damage to federal property," Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for the
United States Bureau of Reclamation, said. "We have no choice but to
involve law enforcement and are asking for their guidance." Bureau
workers have closed the gates after each instance because workers for the
Klamath Irrigation District, which contracts with the bureau to operate
the sites, have refused.
The Klamath County sheriff, Tim Evinger, has refused to take action
against the protesters, saying no state or local laws had been
broken."It's desperate times for these desperate measures,"
Sheriff Evinger said today, explaining why he did not intervene while he
watched protesters open the headgates on Wednesday. "We absolutely
support it if it's peaceful." On Wednesday, 100 to 150 people formed
a human chain and shielded men who cut off the headgate's lock using a
diamond-bladed chainsaw and a cutting torch, sending water from Upper
Klamath Lake into the canal. The headgate had been opened two other times
since Friday night in defiance of the bureau's order
Farmers opened gates for the fourth time
yesterday standing off a contingent of U.S Marshals. Today armed Marshals
out manuevered the farmers and took control of the head gate area.
Farmers sent water down an irrigation canal Sunday that has been
parched since water was shut off last April to protect threatened and
endangered fish. About 100 farmers used an irrigation line to bypass a
canal head gate in a move officials called "symbolic."
The farmers, who have camped out at the canal head gate for several
days, placed a pump in Upper Klamath Lake and ran about a 200-yard-long
irrigation pipe along a fence and into the canal on the other side of the
gate, federal and county officials said. The pipe was eight inches in
diameter, according to the farmers' Web site.
Federal agents with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation did not plan to
arrest anyone, but were monitoring the situation, said Jeff McCracken, a
On Sunday, dozens of farmers continued to camp out along the irrigation
canal. They had set up two awnings and installed portable toilets, lawn
chairs and picnic supplies outside of a chain link fence separating them
from the canal
The Bucket Brigade put out a call for
help which got enthusiastic response around the West. Convoys were
organized to bring needed supplies, cash and moral support for the
beleaguered farmers. I went down with the Montana convoy of 21 vehicles,
arriving Monday, 8/27/01
That evening there were some local speakers. The most common themes
were pride in the accomplishments of the local people, achieved with a
determination to win and to do it without violence. The Sheriff was
especially concerned that the activities be nonviolent.
More convoys from Nevada, California, and Washington came in the next
day. The parade through Klamath Falls started out at the edge of town with
85 vehicles and more joined as we proceeded. A BIG BUCKET from the
Jarbidge Shovel Brigade was erected on the Courthouse lawn. The
speechifying lasted for at least an hour while the parade waited in the
downtown streets. Later there were more speeches at the fairgrounds which
I skipped out on and went to the headgates of the irrigation canal were
the actions is.
The "A" canal is about 20' wide and several feet deep. It
distributes the water of Upper Klamath Lake to the farmers. The lake is
about half the size of Flathead Lake although not nearly as deep. It is
very full right now.
The head gates are surrounded by a chain link fences with barbed wire
at the top. The fence gates are chained and padlocked. Six or seven fully
armed, flak jacketed, and brown shirted BLM guards were visible at all
times. We talked to Ms. Probert who wore Badge # 1. She must be the head
of BLM law enforcement. I asked her if she had noticed any changes in her
agency since Bush took office. She said no, but that was probably because
only the top officials had been changed. Therefore no directives were
coming thru channels and they were acting on old klinton directives!!!
While we were in Klamath the water was flowing and no attempts to take
over the head gates was made. It was expected that the water would be shut
off after the convoy left and it was - at 5:30 AM on Thursday. We did hear
some talk that there would a civil disobedience action on Thursday. Media
was present but they didn't seem to be making a big splash.
The people we spoke to were glad for our support. Our main goal was to
reinforce the fighting spirit of the Bucket Brigade by a show of support.
In this we were successful.
One-by-one American citizens climbed the newly constructed wooden
ladder, positioned over the chainlink gate, and stepped into no-man's
At first the air was hushed as if with reverence. It gave strength to
solidify and unite -- to come together as one. Soon more and more became
anxious to stand on the liberty-proving ground. Hymns like "Onward
Christian Soldier" and "Amazing Grace" were sung, then
patriotic songs filled the air and finally the national anthem brought
tears to a self-respecting people. It was a step towards liberating all
people from the yoke of federal bureaucracy.
Make no mistake, each individual knew they were crossing the
no-trespassing line and defying the United States federal government.
After an hour of informative speeches and offered options, the 300
individuals knew they were taking a stand against tyranny. Each was ready
to be arrested if need be.
The fence is the boundary between Klamath Falls city property and what
the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) claims is its land. The headgates were
protected by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Rangers and so were not
broken into, which would have been a fifth time since the BoR stopped 90
percent of irrigation water to 1400 farmers in April.
Barbara Martin, a local realtor, explained how and why the no-man's
land and the headgate area was actually now owned by the irrigators.
Irrigation districts had long since paid for the cost of the canal system
project and under a U.S. Code should have been considered the irrigators.
"They are the trespassers," accused Martin of the BLM Rangers
and BoR officials
Farmers, grandparents, business people and church goers, chose to push
the civil disobedience envelope a little farther. At the narrow cement
bridge above the headgates of "A" canal the four BLM Rangers
stood shoulder-to-shoulder and would not move nor speak. The protesters
handed papers to the Rangers that claimed they were the true owners of the
The BLM Rangers remained silent, but one did produce a key to the lock
holding the huge chain around the boundary gate. When the gate was opened,
the protesters removed it from its hinges, symbolically stating that it
would not be closed again. The patriot protesters had gained the 100 feet
between the canal and the chainlink. The Freedom Headgate Encampment began
moving its headquarters from the other side of the fence.
Earlier during the hour of speeches, two men had addressed the crowd of
500. They had been asked to attend by Martin. Both had served as sheriffs
and had stood up to federal officials. Both had handcuffed federal
officials. Martin hoped that they could offer information to Sheriff
Evinger, who had found himself knee-deep in a very sticky situation.
Excerpts from Pioneer Press
Events to the
End of 2001
On October 22, 2001, the National Academies of Science
announced the makeup of a Committee established to evaluate the
"science", such as it is, that has been invoked to justify the
seizure of water from over 1,400 Klamath Basin farmers.
The objectivity of several of the committee members is
suspect. Dr. Peter Moyle, Dr. Gene Helfman, Dr. Robert Huggett and lawyer,
J.B. Ruhl have been feeding at the green troughs of the federal and
academic communities for years.
The principal scientific question of interest is whether the coho or the suckers are endangered. The Committee, however, is
charged by the NAS to ignore that question. Rather, the Committee is to
"assess . . . the biological opinions regarding the effects of
Klamath Project operations on species in the Klamath River Basin listed
under the Endangered Species Act", thus assuming the correctness
of the listings
The committee is expected to provide an interim report
to the Department of Interior by Jan. 31, of next year. A final report by
the NRC is due March 30, 2003.
Senators Wyden and Smith from Oregon have proposed a
Klamath Basin Interagency Task Force charged to develop a "five-year
plan" reminiscent of the commissars and their Soviet "five year
plans". This plan is not charged to get more water for the farmers or
even guarantee them the water which they already own. It is mostly DC talk
for more bureaucratic control. Writing for People for the Usa,
James Buchal says:
Looking at the Klamath Basin as one of many
battlegrounds in the War on the West, one can only conclude that
Senators Smith and Wyden have proposed to provide $175 million to
empower the enemy. That much money can put armies of federally-funded
interlopers throughout the Klamath Basin. Soon the farmers may be
literally outnumbered by the folks who say "we're here from the
Government, and we're here to help you". The old charge against King
George will ring truer that ever: "He has erected a
multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass
our people, and eat out their substance".
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco
issued a one-sentence statement late Friday saying that it would consider
an appeal by a coalition of conservation groups challenging a Sept. 10
decision to delist coho by U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan of Eugene.
Hogan had removed coho from federal protection because the National Marine
Fisheries Service, he said, had "arbitrary and capriciously"
treated wild and hatchery salmon differently when it protected only wild
salmon as threatened. His decision sent shock waves through the Pacific
Northwest, where multiple runs of salmon enjoy federal protection at
public expenditure. The appeals court Friday said Hogan's ruling would be
stayed until the appeal is decided.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, when it said in
early November that the Bush administration would not appeal Hogan's
ruling, announced that it was launching a review of federal hatchery
policy. The Fisheries Service said then that it would review 23 runs of
salmon and steelhead to see if they should be removed from the endangered
species list. Both those reviews remain in effect
It looks like a good year for water in the Klamath Basin
this year. Snow pack is 131% of normal. Whether the farmers
get any of that remains to be seen. So far nothing has really
changed except they have stronger locks and barricades at the head
gates. There have been dozens if not hundreds of meetings along with
a multitude of articles, papers, studies, and letters to the editor.
To no avail as yet. It appears that reason does not prevail in
America anymore. Intellectual integrity, good sense, fair play and
respect for private property are alien concepts to generations of power
brokers raised on liberal warm fuzzy thinking and influenced by leftists that the end justifies the means.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a
draft biological assessment for a water management strategy that give the
farmers their irrigation water back.
"A preliminary water management strategy released by the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation today would grant significantly greater priority
to farmers in the battle for water in the Upper Klamath Basin.
A draft biological assessment for the Klamath Reclamation Projectís
2002 operations states anyone who wants to use water for purposes other
than irrigation, including protection of endangered fish, should buy the
water from farmers.
The move by the Bureau of Reclamation, likely to draw determined
opposition, represents a complete turnabout from government policy in
recent years, when the highest priority for use of water was given to
protecting endangered fish and meeting trust obligations for Indian
The shift in priorities more closely matches earlier water management
schemes, including the 1957 Klamath River Compact, which established
domestic and agricultural uses as the highest
01/28/02 By TODD KEPPLE and ANITA
BURKE Klamath Herald and News
However, the NAS criticized this BA in it's interim
study of the science involved in the Klamath water fight in a press
release on 2/6/02. On the other hand the same press release revealed
that the interim report is also critical of the US Fish and Wildlife and
the National Marine Fisheries Service for witholding the irrigation from
the farmers without adequate scientific evidence.
interim report finds no clear connection between water levels in Upper
Klamath Lake and conditions that are adverse to suckers."
"Based on these findings, the
committee said there is no scientific basis for the Fish and Wildlife
Service's proposal to keep the water at levels greater than the average
high between 1990 and 2000. At the same time, however, it concluded that
there also is no sound scientific support for letting the lake waters
drop below mean minimum levels that occurred during the same 10-year
period, which would be allowed under the Bureau of Reclamation's
"Likewise, the committee said there
is no scientific justification for increased minimum flows in the
Klamath River to protect coho salmon, as called for by the National
Marine Fisheries Service."
"On the other hand, the reduction in
minimum river flows that the Bureau of Reclamation's proposal would
allow cannot be justified on scientific grounds either, the committee
The NAS interim report can be seen at