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Front Page » August 7, 2001 » Opinion » Calls on government to open head gate
Published 5,171 days ago

Calls on government to open head gate

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Frontiers of Freedom Institute

In the 1976 Oscar winning film "Network," actor Peter Finch plays aging television news anchor Howard Beale.

Beale, in the final days of a distinguished career, determines to leave in a blaze of glory by speaking his mind, believing his audience will respond to the candor.

During one of his final newscasts, Beale implores his viewers to declare: "'I'm a human being... My life has value."

"So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore,'" continues Finch's character.

"Network" is simply one of the greatest movie quotes of all time, as far as I am concerned.

Lately, farmers in the Klamath Basin on the Oregon and California borders have been taking Beale's advice. The farmers are opening their windows and their mouths and the noise is deafening.

But where are the rest of us?

The Klamath project, formed between the two neighboring states in 1902, is home to approximately 1,400 farms and ranches.

Many of the farmers in the region are descendants of World War I and World War II veterans who won the right to homestead in the basin from the federal government.

Lured to the area in part by guaranteed water rights, farmers created a $300 million dollar market for crops including barley, oats, potatoes, wheat and sugar beets.

Now, after 99 summers of growth on fields worked by some of the finest men and women America has to offer, small communities in the region have been reduced to dust bowls.

The situation is a direct result of the United States Bureau of Reclamation's recent decision to stop providing water to 90 percent of the land in the basin.

Instead, the federal officials favor the sucker fish in the Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon in the Klamath River.

Family farms are deteriorating, literally blowing away, while precious water is held back. Farmers with no other source of water have been forced to sell off cattle and watch as pastures and hay die in the sun.

The economic losses range from $250 million to $400 million.

Don't call the editor. That is not a misprint. Federal government bureaucrats have misused the mostly dysfunctional Endangered Species Act (ESA) to supersede all other obligations of the Klamath project.

The federal bureaucrats have determined that the two species of fish in question have rights greater than of the individuals whose hands have worked the land for generations.

Outraged residents filed suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the bureau had acted legally.

"Congress has spoken in the plainest of words, making it abundantly clear that the balance has been struck in favor of affording endangered species the highest of priorities," Judge Aiken wrote in her decision.

Fed up but re-energized by slowly building national media attention, residents of the devastated Klamath Basin gathered on July 4 for a re-opening of the canal.

Armed with bolt cutters farmers and their supporters pried open the stubborn head gates and cheered as five to 10 cubic feet of water per second escaped government control.

Though not enough to save even a single acre of the 240,000 currently affected, on this day they notched a symbolic battlefield win in a war that, to date, they have mostly lost.

Many people from that hot afternoon have remained at the site, erecting a temporary camp, sending sometimes hourly updates via the Internet to supporters all over the country.

The supporters sing hymns, hear speeches and re-open the flow of water every time U.S. marshals close it down.

Recently, a good old-fashioned calvary arrived on the scene. More than 100 horses and riders appeared above a nearby ridge, most carrying United States flags. The people in attendance indicate that not a dry eye could be found.

Most of the patriots appear willing to stay indefinitely.

Though the 2001 agricultural season is a total loss, the victims demand fair market compensation and a serious recrafting of the Endangered Species Act.

And who can blame them?

Family legacies are practically wiped from the map and our federal government stands idly by while those whom it has a constitutional duty to protect, suffer.

Yet somehow, the people continue to stand firm.

Americans should all be so brave. We should all demand that the head gates be opened, that wrongs be righted, and that promises be kept.

We should all be so outraged as to open our windows and yell: "We're mad as hell. And we're not going to take this anymore."

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August 7, 2001
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