It's a cruel, long-distance war

December 12, 2002

Herald and News Editorial (likely authored by Pat Bushey)

The Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon

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Environmentalists said this week they'd sue the federal government in their fight to keep Klamath Basin irrigators from using an herbicide to clear ditches. More important than the details of this announcement was the way it was made: in press conferences in Portland, Eugene and Ashland - not in Klamath Falls, Merrill or Tulelake.

This is symbolic. Environmental groups have created a straw man in the Basin: "the lucky few" farmers who profit from irrigation water and cheap electricity. It is easier for environmentalists to argue that these unnamed people should lose their livelihoods than to face the facts of the matter.

The facts are that wiping out agriculture in the Basin will deprive thousands of people of their livelihoods. Small towns will die, scores of businesses will fail, and farm families will have to sell out at bargain-basement prices. Even the most extravagant buyout proposals take into account only land and do nothing -- can do nothing -- to make the Basin whole for a crushing loss of people and economic activity.

It's no accident that environmental activists prefer to lob their shells over the Cascades and out of the Willamette Valley. That is where most of them live. As a matter of public relations, it's wise to draw reporters away and discourage an examination of the consequences of eliminating Basin agriculture -- consequences that surely will be inimical to wildlife and natural resources, not to mention injurious to those already suffering from poverty in the Basin. Working at long range, it's easier to demonize "the lucky few" than to confront the thousands whose lives and livelihoods are on the line.

These press conferences were just one day's maneuvers in a war of decades, but their very circumstances speak for the campaign's heartlessness and brutality.

People in the Basin long ago recognized these traits. It is time for rank-and-file environmentalists in the rest of Oregon and the United States to recognize the inhumanity of this campaign of economic cleansing, to speak against it, and to refuse to pay for it.

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