Roads Less Traveled



"We may now be expected to go to war for America, little knowing if we will even have farms to come back to, because of the undue influence and pressure that is destroying our American custom and culture as resource providers due to the Endangered Species Act and the uninhibited lust that the non-governmental agencies (notably the Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club among others) have for our lands. Almost one hundred years of 'sweat equity' are valued at as little as $28 per acre, and our wildlife refuge inhabitants are suffering, too, at the hands of those who profess to love wildlife, the 'environmentalists'" - Oregon farmer, commenting after the horrors of 9-11 that prompted those at the Klamath Falls, OR "A" Canal Headgates to break up camp and allow the federal agency employees to be better utilized elsewhere for national security.


(Note from Barb Hall in the Klamath Basin: I'm so glad Julie resent this to me.  It means more to me today then it did when she first wrote it and sent it out, back in 2002.  With the House Resource Committee Field Hearing on the ESA coming up on July 17th (2004) here in Klamath, this article brings back all the feelings I had for our basin, its people -- and even though the government was responsible for the water shut-off in 2001 -- how patriotic I felt every time I went to the headgates or a rally that fateful summer.  I wasn't alone with my feelings; you could see the others' patriotism and the disbelief in their tears and faces while patriotic music played or we sang the national anthem.  I hope re-reading this stirs the same feelings in you.)


June 12, 2002


By Julie Kay Smithson


London, Ohio


[email protected]


4,800 words (Permission to post only if in entirety, with no changes.)


In the great space that is infinity, one century is a mere eye-blink. 


In the great vastness of the high desert that surrounds the Klamath Basin that straddles the California-Oregon border in the Pacific Northwest, that tiny fraction of time has made a world of difference to the many species that call it their home.


There have been many stories written about the Klamath Basin Crisis; they deal with the Endangered Species Act, the suckerfish, its habitat, the beleaguered farmers and homeowners, etc.  These stories are “roads less traveled.”


“I believe we must stand with these folks in these situations. If most of America would stand, Congress would straighten up and fly right, and make the ‘alphabet agencies' toe the line.” - Katherine Van Tuyl, Medford, Oregon.


Her abundant auburn hair streaked with silver and plumply braided, Katherine Van Tuyl’s tall and striking countenance belies the lady warrior that she is.  Kathy has been in attendance at more than one event such as Klamath, although this one is nearest her home, only two hours away. 


Kathy, 47, works for a Medford travel agency, and her life has become not unlike a busy air traffic controllers, juggling her time and resources, attempting to be present at as many such events as possible.  She was an active participant in the “Shovels of Solidarity for Stewards of the Darby” convoy, helping shepherd thousands of the famed Jarbidge Shovels cross-country to Ohio on Labor Day weekend of 2000.  The Darby Farmland Rally was made all the better in its effective fight for property rights by Kathy’s presence.


“My life has been changed forever.” - Chuck Goslin, Idaho native.


Chuck Goslin is a soft-spoken, caring man in his forties, an American citizen with no axe to grind and no vengeance to seek.  He came to the Klamath Headgates, like many others, simply to offer his help and moral support.  The experience was one he will never forget.  He gleaned a priceless gift from the fields of disaster and the siege of a rural culture.  He learned that he had a chance to help, not with money, but with his ability to write and communicate.  His direction in life was radically altered, as he explained.


“As I drove into Klamath Falls on the afternoon of August 17th I was struck with the beauty of the area. I was yet unaware of how my life was about to change. Looking back and reading the notes that I kept while I was there I don't believe I've ever met a town as friendly! Starting with Hazel Toney, a retired bank teller who drove across town as soon as I phoned her so I wouldn't get lost trying to find her home. She wanted to be able to do something to help the farmers so she offered her camper to anyone from out of town who came to help. I will always remember her kindness and the trust she so freely gave to a stranger. Hazel was only the first of a long list of people that I will never forget.   After arriving at the Headgates it didn't take long to get a sense of the underlying sadness and disbelief that OUR OWN GOVERNMENT could destroy so many lives. I was born and raised in a rural community in southeast Idaho, so it was easy for me to feel the pain.  As for the disbelief, all you had to do was look over the chain link fence with barbed wire running along the top. Federal officers with firearms and wearing bulletproof vests have a way of getting your attention. I've never met a more caring and compassionate group of people than the farmers of the Klamath Basin. It can't be expressed in words the tremendous restraint that these hard working people have shown as their lives are being destroyed.”


“We are not farmers.” - Barb Hall, Klamath Falls native.


Red and Barb Hall are quick to explain that they are NOT farmers in the Klamath Basin.  “We only have a few acres 4.39, to be exact -- and some horses,” Barb states.  However, in visiting the Hall’s place, just a short distance west of the Department of Interior’s “Ecosystem Restoration Project” office on the south side of Klamath Falls, Oregon, I was touched by the true spirit of the American rancher and resource provider.


While their acreage may not constitute a “farm” in the strictest sense of the word, Red, 73, and Barb, 49, are devoted stewards of their land.  They have maintained a diary of photos for over 160 days, showing the changes in their “piece of Heaven’s” appearance, both with and without irrigation water.  Their spacious Dutch-style barn was built in 1905, and still graces the Klamath Basin.


Barb has spent countless hours at her computer, charting the levels at each of the seven dams that span the Klamath River on its march to the Pacific Ocean on a several-times-daily basis.  She has learned much that troubles her.  For example, one of the dams in the middle of the seven has levels lower than those immediately above and below it, and its high-water level ALWAYS occurs at MIDNIGHT!  Barb questions the legitimacy of the statistics that are being compiled.


“It sickened me to pass fields this year where nothing was growing.  Whole farms were without water; alfalfa fields dried up.  We went over 100 days without a drop of rain.” - Dan Wetzel, Klamath Irrigation District ditch rider.


Dan Wetzel, 58, of Merrill, Oregon, has been a Klamath Irrigation District relief ‘ditch rider’ for the past sixteen years.  He delivers to farmers, filling orders for water, in the Merrill and Malin, Oregon, rides, either by turning pumps on or by delivering from the lake - it’s called water manipulation. 


The irrigation season is supposed to run from April 1 through October 15 each year.  Dan’s job covers two rides out of the eight that comprise the Klamath Irrigation District, or KID, and the Tulelake Irrigation District or TID, which are called the main project.  Most of the rides are in Oregon, although the Malin ride does go into extreme northern California.  The water is used in flood-head or sprinkler-head irrigation systems, for high protein count alfalfa hay fields and livestock pastures, as well as potato crops and some grains like feed barley.


A former logger for Weyerhaeuser until the spotted owl, sacrificial lamb for the Endangered Species Act, (original habitat: Arizona) virtually shut down the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest, Dan was permanently laid off in 1981.  He worked as a seasonal part-time employee for the Forest Service and the Oregon Dept. of Forestry for the next three years. In 1984, Dan was hired by the KID; he expected to finish his working career there.


For the past four years, the weather cycle has not been kind to the Klamath Basin and its inhabitants.  With the failure to open the Headgates in April 2001, and the time lag before the farmers’ pleas were heard by Gale Norton, new Secretary of the Department of Interior, much damage was done to the area that was secondary to the water’s belated arrival.  Some of canals in the Malin Irrigation District were so “weeded up” that they never got water.


KID is intricate maze of canals and smaller ditches that supply water to various farming operations. The Lost River diversion canal, which is perfectly flat, can pump water either way, from Lost River to Klamath River or vice-versa.  During normal water years, these canals deliver water that has transformed approximately 200,000 acres of high desert into fertile green that feeds the world.  The land is called the Klamath Basin Project.  Since 1918, with the inception of the District, farmers have invested sweat equity and generations of their families into this agricultural miracle.


The functions of the KBP and its system of irrigation is that water is used 5-7 times, by KID and TID, then goes to the lower (Tulelake) wildlife refuge, for the bald eagles and ducks.  It is being recycled, not simply used.  In irrigation districts, water is measured and spoken of in CFS -- Cubic Feet per Second -- and a general rule of thumb is 450 gallons per minute.  When a farmer orders 2 cubic feet, he or she may receive 900 gallons a minute for a period of from 12-24 hours, though the minimum charge is for 24 hours.  In 2001, water ordered and PAID FOR, by farmers in the District, was delivered “too little, too late” and the farmers have not been reimbursed either their money or the loss to their farms of income.  In some cases, the loss has been permanent, with the farmer selling in order to get “something” out of his investment, at a terrible loss.


Dan and his wife Kathy have 30 acres (a “gentleman’s farm”) with an irrigation well that keeps eight acres of alfalfa emerald-green, and maintains some hilly pasture to the south of and outside the KID, just a mile from the California border.


The loggers first said, “They'll never kick us out of the woods.”  The farmers were complacent: “They'll never take my water.  I've got a contract.  The only priority over my use is domestic use.”  The Endangered Species Act, or ESA, with the change from area to “site-specific” habitat has multiplied the numbers of species, both actually endangered and those who have been made endangered by reengineering and junk science.  The Biological Opinion, served on the residents by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is what will ultimately decide the fate of everything that lives within the Basin, human, flora and fauna, endangered or not.  The BO has the power to return the entire Klamath Basin to “pre-settlement or pre-European settlement condition,” and that will not benefit the American Bald Eagle or the American Farmer.  To “re-wild” the vast reaches of the Basin would mean that the effect of crops lost would be felt in the American consumer’s pocketbook, as the buying power of the food dollar shrinks.  Granted, this would not be a big effect, but the ripples of the collective pebbles that are American farms, ranches, mines, timber sales, etc. would mean that the American Dream as we know it would cease to exist, and with it would go the American quality of life.


"We in the Klamath Basin feel that we are at Ground Zero in the battle for the West...  Like most of my neighbors, I feel our livelihoods have changed forever." - Doug Mouch, Merrill, Oregon, farmer and rancher in the Klamath Basin.


To those who pass by the farm of Doug and Kim Mouch, and see their three children growing up "in the country," the roots of their commitment may not appear to go all the way back to World War I, to a crippled young veteran named Barney Mouch. 


Barney ingested mustard gas during the Ardennes-Muese battle in the European Theater (of war) on the Western Front.  The Ardennes Cemetery, ninety acres in extent, mutely illustrates the dangers of war that young Mouch faced: it contains 462 American Missing who gave their lives in the service of their country, but whose remains were never recovered or identified. The cemetery, ninety acres in extent, contains the graves of 5,328 American military Dead.


Upon his return home after the war, Barney’s neighbors tried to get him to stop farming and simply draw a pension.  The Mouch ties to the land and to his family were too strong, though, and Barney trusted the government promise of water for his land.  He persevered, wresting from the high and arid desert a beautiful gem of productivity and diversity, a farm with the richest alfalfa fields and Guernsey dairy cattle, a home and a career to be proud to hand down to his heirs.  When the eldest Mouch died in 1976, his grandson Doug vowed to keep the place his grandpa had invested his life in.


Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and Doug, who with his wife Kim and their three children, is raising not only one hundred and thirty pairs of Guernsey cattle (cow-calf operation), but also has supplied not just his own cattle, but those of another dairy 250 miles to the north in Jefferson, Oregon.


Doug, 35, a college graduate with a degree in engineering and a short time with Boeing in tool design, soon became convinced that the farm was the place to be.  In 1992, he and Kim brought their young family home to stay in the Klamath Basin.  He has cultivated a healthy business in marketing top-grade alfalfa hay to the good customer at the dairy and worries that that dairy will now be forced to look for another source of hay, that he may lose a customer that he invested much time and material to develop and maintain a relationship with.  The ripple effect will be that the dairy will have to compete for hay on the open market, a market whose prices are rocketing skyward.


Kim's family, too, has its heritage well established in "the Basin."  Her father, Don Dean, also farms in the Klamath Irrigation District.


"We were blessed by having 1,000 acres of pasture for the cattle on the Williamson River north of the upper Klamath Reservoir," Doug admitted.  "Had it not been for that, we'd have been in trouble sooner."


My interview with Doug was delayed by his frenetic pace during haying season, getting the single cutting of hay put up in the barns.  He should have had three cuttings, so the two thousand tons of hay will only be approaching seven hundred tons, forcing him to sell the calves early (at 500 rather than 600 pounds per head).  In Doug's words, "After that (the sale), I'm looking at a head-on collision with winter.  It might sound easy to sell the cows to get out of the feed crunch, but this herd has taken years to build.  I have little confidence that I will be able to generate the revenue needed to return to the cattle business."


Doug summed up the seriousness of the situation with these words: "We must get the truth out and educate the public about just what it takes to put food on their plates."


“I just try to bring together other people who are "balls of fire", and then stand by and watch things happen. I was just a mouse that roared ... or squeaked!” - Betty Anne Wynne, California Farmer.


Betty Anne Wynne celebrates every day of life, and is boldly marching through her eighth decade of life, an incurable optimist and avowed activist.  Betty is quick to take up the torch for property rights and rural custom and culture.  In the process, many have benefited from her abundant energy, infectious good humor and perpetual eye-twinkle!


The California contingent of the Klamath Relief Fund Convoy that began at Malibu mentioned that it would pass through Modesto, California, on its way to Klamath Falls.  Betty was busy from the moment she heard about the convoy, preparing to “roll out the red carpet” for those traveling through, including planning for shaded -- read: COOL! -- parking for the semi trucks and other vehicles on a side street near Modesto's Graceada Pioneer Park. Modesto Junior College, another cool shady spot for parking in a "Tree City" whose campus trees were selected by beloved college professor Frederick ("Pop") Knorr in 1924, was also nearby. Betty reserved a motel room for a sympathetic member of the media, although the “best laid plans...” were not to be.  On the scheduled day, Betty and her longtime friend, and fellow member of California Women for Agriculture (CWA) Marlene Sanders, and Marlene's daughter Cathy waited at the Arch in Modesto, in the 102-degree heat.  They waited patiently for almost four hours, and finally had to say “Uncle” and go home, but the effort was made!  As they discovered later, the caravan of five vehicles was tardy in its estimated time of arrival, and passed through Modesto without stopping on its way to Klamath Falls.


Although Betty was not able to accompany the Convoy from California to Oregon, she was there in spirit; her indomitable presence was felt by everyone, including one of her old junior college girlfriends, Lucille, who she hadn't seen in sixty-one years but always kept in fond memory after Lucille and Woody Chambers married and moved to Tulelake. Lucille and Betty Anne had been close friends and fellow students in the farm community college Modesto Junior College. They were not activists in those days when life was simple, just sweet country girls, their country on the brink of entering World War II.


Happily, Betty and Lucille are again in contact, by photographs and correspondence arranged by Betty's e-mail friend and the author of this article.


“I've been getting water from these Headgates for 52 years, but never saw them until today.” - Woody Chambers, Tulelake, California, farmer. 


Lucille Chambers, a beautiful and fragile lady of 80 years, was steadied by her devoted husband, Woody.  Standing in the hot August sun beside the high chain link fence separating them from the now-closed Headgates, they looked puzzled by the change in fortune of their beloved Klamath Basin.  They had driven over forty miles from their farm home in Tulelake, California, to the Klamath Headgates to meet someone who'd traveled with donations all the way from Ohio. 


“We're P.O.W.s (Prisoners Of War) of the eco-war. The Federal Government should not own land.  It has created a Federal drought here.” - Bill Oetting, the Klamath Basin, Oregon/California.


Bill and Pat Oetting (he from Tucson, Arizona, she from Chicago, Illinois) did not inherit their stake in the Klamath Basin, they chose it, over farmland in Missouri and residences in Chicago and Tucson.  They are first-generation Klamath farmers and ranchers with 31 years of marriage to reference their commitment to time and honor.  Their 29-year-old son hopes to continue working with his dad until the farms can be passed on to the upcoming third generation, two young grandchildren.  A daughter works with computers in Portland. Sixty pairs of Polled Herefords are raised in a cow-calf operation; all but eleven pairs are now sold due to the federally imposed lack of irrigation water.  In fields where sugar beets and potatoes once thrived, alfalfa hay and hard (red) wheat now grow.


All three sugar beet processing plants in Klamath Falls pulled out, and Bill wonders if they saw the ‘handwriting on the wall?’ Top quality russet potato production has been decimated.  2001 is the first year in 94 years that the Klamath Basin has had to import potatoes.


Bill’s family still has rural roots in central Missouri, near the tiny hamlet of Gore, 2,000 acres in five different farms near the Boone and Crockett Trail and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail Line, now a rail-to-trail.  Two of his uncles and one aunt never married and continued farming in Missouri -- Bill and Pat farmed in Missouri for only a year before going west.


Bill recalls something from his childhood: There was a big billboard on the highway -- in the 1960s -- between Tucson and Nogales, on the old Nogales Highway, that said ‘Get us out of the United Nations.’  He wonders at the apparent foresight in the sign’s message, still there today to greet passersby.


Recounting his feelings, Bills explains that rural terrorism began with mining in about 1964, with three main problems: viewscape, leachate and water use for extraction.


Next on the agenda came timber, then ranching and now farming. 


Klamath Falls and its crisis in 2001 were progression in this tumbling of dominoes.


Marshy, swampy land, together with alkali flats, formed a mosaic with farm fields and small canals, guarded by Mt. Shasta, two hundred miles to the south, that characterized the Klamath Basin in the early years of the twentieth century. From 1903-1905, the American government shouldered its way in and increased the irrigation systems, to enlarge the area’s agricultural base.


“I was drawn to the Headgates by a force not of myself.  The Good Lord drew me there.  I was the main organizer -- Joe Bair and I went to Elko, Nevada, and talked to Grant Gerber of Jarbidge Shovel Brigade fame.  In two weeks, we put convoys and thousands of people together to come to Klamath Falls from seven states,” he says quietly.  I have the feeling that this man truly feels his settling here was more than chance.


Bill and Pat purchased one hundred and twenty acres in the Klamath Irrigation District about three years ago because it was irrigated, and because of the A water rights that ran with the land and deed.  A government contract signed by Herbert Hoover stated that the water rights were ‘in perpetuity.’


In 94 years there had been no curtailment.


They also own three hundred and twenty patented acres in California, just west of Tulelake and outside of the Tulelake Irrigation District, in the Klamath National Forest. On that land, an aquifer that is 500 feet below ground, near Crater Lake and Mt. Shasta, supplies their water needs. 


Their neighbors are International Paper to the south, and the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service on the other three sides. 


Bill states that the two government agencies “are NOT good neighbors.” 


He is nervous about the future of that landholding.


After the horrors of September 11th, those maintaining their vigil at the A Canal Headgates in Klamath Falls considered going to the Farmer’s Market in New York City to help the small businessmen rebuild, taking the collections of non-perishable food and supplies, stored in semi-trailers at the Headgates, to their New York neighbors.  However, the flood of help that inundated New York stalled the plans, and fall haying and gathering of cattle and the advent of winter shelved plans for the time being.


Bill and Grant Gerber made a “whistle-stop tour of the Midwest” in mid-September, talking to interested folks in Chicago on WGN with host Max Armstrong on the Ag Report; Lowell, Indiana, at the First Baptist Church; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with Constitutional attorney Gene Zimmerman; and in York, Nebraska, where they met with the grassroots property rights group Nebraskans First! and networked with Jim Beers who had come from Virginia.


“The feeling of taking care of things, when seagulls fly alongside the combine waiting for the wheat to be opened, is incomparable,” Bill remarks with great feeling. “We lost 3,000 people last year from illness due to consuming food [that was] imported from Korea.  We've got to make a real decision -- our nation is going ‘down the tubes’ at an accelerated pace.  We may just have to stop and regroup. I'm really in a time of transition, having a real desire to get into the Constitution and the Federalist Papers; and a real desire to get more unregistered churches going, the non-501c3 kind."


“It was worth coming here, to be a part of this.”  Ryan Palmerton, Grants Pass, OR, truck farmer.


Ryan Palmerton, Grants Pass, OR, a 43-year-old truck farmer and gardener, and recent heart bypass patient, journeyed to the Headgates on his first outing in five months.  He has a two-acre truck farm on land that he reclaimed from worn-out and nutrient-depleted sugar beet land, by the use of intensive composting techniques.  This nutrient-renewed acreage yielded many thousands of pounds of potatoes, tomatoes and onions last year.  This spring, heart surgery stopped all activity, as Ryan healed from his surgery.  While in Klamath Falls, he quietly observed the activities, and was visibly effected.  A peacemaker by nature, Ryan helped to keep the calm at the Headgates by his presence.


“The most indelible memory of the Headgates was two slices of still-warm-from-the-oven, homemade black raspberry pie,” Julie Kay Smithson, rural Ohio resident. 


During the evening of Saturday, August 25th, only two volunteers were keeping an eye on the peace of the Headgates, Ryan Palmerton and I. 


In the warm darkness of the large tent, the long streetlight at the locked gates laid its indirect beams over the dusty driveway.  An old, battered pick-up truck pulled in, its lights out, and stopped just short of the gates.


Two children carefully got out the passenger side, a girl of about eight or nine, and her four-year-old brother.  They each carried a fine bone china saucer and silver fork, the saucer wrapped in plastic.  The girl introduced herself as Cheyenne and her brother as Mark, named after his father.  She said, “Our mother baked this pie for us, and we live over there (and she pointed across the irrigation canal to some nearby homes), and saw that there were two nice people here who had come to help us and watch over us.  She said to bring you two pieces of our pie that she just baked.” 


With that simple statement, Ryan and I were presented with two warm and generous slices of pie, served on the finest china and with the finest silver.  Tears flowed as Cheyenne hugged me affectionately. 


“Wiggles, my Australian Blue Heeler dog, has a new name in Klamath Falls:  Hero!” 


He is possessed of the most affable and loving disposition imaginable, this dog-son of mine with the multicolored and coated appearance, eyes bright and brown, up on his toes in anticipation of the throwing of his “yellow ball!”  Three years old in July, Wiggles Wombat Blue Heeler is forty pounds of eagerness, full of the joy of life, and I am blessed to be his human.


Wiggles is a staunch traveling companion, snoozing quietly while the miles unroll behind our truck, waking only for Arby's “roast beefies” or herds of cattle.  During the evenings, after our 1 1/2-mile walk, I rest and he stands watch, using his stored energy for guard duty. 


While in Klamath Falls the second evening, he showed a new side of his personality hitherto unknown.  We'd been out for our evening stroll, and I was ready for some serious rest.  Wiggles kept going to the motel room door, scratching and whining, neither of which he'd ever done before.  My human roommate, Kathy Van Tuyl, reassured me that she'd “do the honors,” and took him out.  A few minutes later they were back, and the lights were shut out.  Immediately, Wiggles was back at the door, whining softly and scratching.  Grumbling to myself, I took him out … again … and we walked around for ten minutes.  Back in the room, I'd just turned the covers back … again … and he was scratching and whining. 


“Okay, okay!  Show me what it is!” and out we went, for the fourth time.  This time, I unsnapped his leash, and off he went, purposefully and like a homing pigeon, for the back fence of the Motel 6, six feet tall with privacy slats. 


About a dozen feet from the fence, I suddenly smelled -- SMOKE!  Unable to see through or over the fence, my four-legged canine smoke detector and I raced for the motel office.  The night desk clerk and her teenage son flew to the door of the home that was adjoining the motel property to awaken and alert the owners. 


The residents got their garden hose and put out the fire, started by a cigarette, carelessly flipped over the fence, that had burned the grass in their five-acre horse pasture to within a scant three feet of the barn in which their horses were dozing, along with a quantity of hay and straw. 


Another five minutes, and a garden hose would have been hopelessly inadequate to squelch the blaze.


For the rest of our Oregon visit, Wiggles was greeted by his new name: Hero!  For all the above reasons, and many more, this writer shall always remember Klamath Falls, Oregon, and its goodwill and patriotism!


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