NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Klamath Basin Reveals Environment- alists' Secret Agenda

July 26, 2001

The goal of environmental extremists isn't so much to protect endangered species as to move farmers and other countryside-dwellers off their land, critics charge. Property-rights advocates say the strategy is nearly always the same: sue or lobby the government into declaring rural areas off-limits to people who live and work there. The environmentalists' tools are the Endangered Species Act and local preservation laws.

A case in point is California's and Oregon's Klamath Basin.

The Klamath Basin saga began in 1988, when two species of sucker fish in the area were listed under the Endangered Species Act. While the fish need water, farmers also depend on irrigated water from Klamath Lake controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Then in 1991, the basin suffered a drought and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service sided with the fish on the question of who was to get the most water.

  • Within two months, the Oregon Natural Resources Council announced it was suing the Bureau for failing to protect the fish -- although its lawsuits weren't immediately successful, since the farmers' undeniable water rights were established as far back as 1907.
  • But this spring, a federal judge ordered the Interior Department to shut the farmers' water off.
  • Since that decision, the average value of farm property in the region has dropped from $2,500 to about $35 an acre.
  • Then last month, the ONRC proposed that the government buy the farmers out.

Although the council's proposed price of $4,000 an acre might be generous to farmers with now worthless land, it is certainly inconsiderate to taxpayers.

Perhaps most striking is that on the 200,000 acres of parched farmland, animals belonging to dozens of other species -- rabbits, deer, ducks and even bald eagles -- are either dead or off searching for water.

Source: Kimberley A. Strassel, "Rural Cleansing," Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2001.

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