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FORT JONES, Calif. – The editor of a weekly newspaper in northern California has hit on a way for people everywhere to show their support for the 1,400 farm families of the Klamath River Basin whose lives and communities have been essentially destroyed by the decisions in April of two federal judges who, in separate rulings, denied the farmers irrigation water.

Daniel Webster, 36, editor of the Pioneer Press in Fort Jones, invites all those who care about the farmers and their plight to e-mail him their name, the name of the city or area where they live, and any comments they wish to make, for inclusion in a series of special supplements to his publication.

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Daniel Webster, editor of the Pioneer Press, Ft. Jones, Calif.

“It’s a way for people to carry a bucket for the farmers,” Webster explains. “We’ve got to keep the Bucket Brigade flowing to keep this issue alive before the American public and to show the farmers they’re not alone.”

And if the response to date is any indication, the farmers and ranchers are indeed not alone.

“This thing has mushroomed,” says Webster, who admits he’s “overwhelmed” by the sheer volume of names appearing in his inbox. “Over 70,000 names have come in as of June 3, and I figure this next week we’ll top 100,000. That’s the goal for now: 100,000 names.”

Dubbed the Virtual Bucket Brigade, it’s an extension in cyberspace of the massive demonstration one month ago today when between 15,000 and 20,000 people descended on the small town of Klamath Falls in southern Oregon to show their support for the farmers and their way of life. In a symbolic gesture of defiance to the federal ban on irrigation, farmers and their sympathizers formed a mile-long human chain and transported water, person-to-person, from Lake Ewauna at the city’s Veterans Park to the main canal of the irrigation system.

The event – which WorldNetDaily reported – was carried off without a hitch.

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Waiting for liftoff: 51 buckets, for 50 states and D.C. Photo by Sarah Foster

First, there was a morning of speeches; then shortly past noon, Jess Prosser, 85, a veteran of World War II and a homestead farmer in the area since 1949, pulled on his wading boots, stepped into the lake and began drawing the buckets of water. There were 51 four-gallon buckets, each bearing a bright red, white or blue balloon – one for every state in the Union and the District of Columbia. As an announcer read off the names of the states, Prosser filled the buckets and handed them to the next in line – his son John, 50, who handed them to the next generation – John’s son, James, 5. James handed them to his sister Katie, 11, a 4-H member, who handed them to members of the congressional delegation: Republicans Sen. Gordon Smith and Rep. Greg Walden. Once the buckets began being filled, the line quickly formed that stretched along Main Street and up to a footbridge over the “A” Canal – the main artery of the irrigation system – where each bucket was ceremonially poured into the canal below.

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Proudly wearing his cap of the U.S. Army’s 41st Division,
205th Artillery Battalion, Jess Prosser, 85, gets ready to begin the Bucket Brigade. Photo by Sarah Foster.

The canal was not completely dry. There was a small amount of water left from last year’s irrigation and winter rains; but as far as the federal government is concerned, that and the 51 buckets full may well be the last water the canal will receive ever again. Until and unless the court orders are reversed, all water is designated to remain in the Upper Klamath Lake (the reservoir which is connected to Lake Ewuana), to keep its level a foot or two higher than it would be normally, for the benefit of two species of sucker fish that live in the lake and are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Any water over that high-water mark will be released directly to the Klamath River for the coho salmon, which another federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, has listed as endangered.

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Three generations of Prossers hand water down the line: Jess to John, 50, to James, 5. Photo by Sarah Foster.

The crowd was jubilant, waving American flags and hoisting placards that expressed the protesters’ opinions about a government that denies irrigation water to farmers in the name of saving fish. People cheered at every stage – when the buckets were drawn, during their transportation and at the final out-pourings.

But after the final bucket was poured and the crowd went home – what then?

Virtual Bucket Brigade takes off

That’s when Webster got his idea. Because he was on a deadline and had to get the paper ready for a next-day delivery to the printer, he stayed in Ft. Jones attending to the typesetting and paste-up, which he does himself. He sent reporter and assistant editor Liz Bowen to cover the event and take photos.

That day, as Webster worked at his desk, Pioneer Press readers began calling the office, asking if there were some way they could help the farmers.

“I got calls from so many people who were unable to be there, but they wanted to be there to hand along a bucket,” Webster recalled, explaining the genesis of the project.

He quickly typed an editorial for the upcoming May 9 issue, in which he championed the farmers and ranchers as the “real environmentalists,” who care for and love the land, and he asked readers to send in their names and thoughts for publication in the next issue of the paper.

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Main Street, Klamath Falls, Ore. Photo by Kevin O’Neil.

“The Pioneer Press will be dedicating a full page, or as many pages as we need, in next week’s edition to list all of the individuals and businesses who wish to stand behind and beside our local ranchers and farmers,” Webster wrote. “I want to hear from everyone who supports the real environmentalists.”

Webster is still amazed at what happened.

His paper is small and his budget so limited he does not have a website. But people in the community retyped his editorial on their own and sent it into cyberspace.

Once on the Internet it was transmitted by word of mouse, and names came pouring in to the newsroom of the Pioneer Press – all with one message expressed in many ways, telling the farmers: You are not alone; we’re here with you. Most expressed their sentiments about the actions of the federal government. These echoed directly the messages on the placards at the demonstration.

Some examples:


  • “I think ‘fish before people’ stinks. Please include me in the protest.”

  • “You can count on my support, a student in Italy who will always, no matter where I am in the world, be from the ranching community of eastern Oregon.

  • “Add my name to the list. If I could have been there, I would have. The idea that fish are more important than human beings is beyond silly.”

  • “Please add our names to those who are appalled and disgusted by the federal government and their cronies; radical environmentalists and liberal left-wing judges.”

  • Though most names are from people in the United States, Webster said some have come in from places as far away as Australia, Singapore, Italy and Austria.

    “It’s the most encouraging thing,” he observed. “People took up the idea and began faxing and e-mailing the editorial to their friends. Here we have ranchers and farmers in our area who are actually very discouraged right now. To see those names from around the world – that’s encouraging. It’s neat to see the cities from all over the place. We know and they know that they’re not alone, that they are joined by people across the nation and around the world.”

    A thousand names came in, then 2,000.

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    Bryce Balin, 7, and Trent Balin, 4, would like to be farmers when they grow up. Photo by Liz Bowen for Pioneer Press, with permission.

    One week after the publication of Webster’s May 9 editorial, the Pioneer Press published not just one or two pages of names but a 16-page supplement of over 6,000 names. In wide margins, Webster printed some of the comments and included a number of Bowen’s photos throughout. A poem by Pat Brazil, a local cowboy poet, highlighted the front page.

    This special supplement was followed by a second the following week. Last week, Webster had to take a break to catch up on the names. A third supplement goes in the mail this week.

    Webster plans a final issue for June 13 and has no idea how large it will be. Thousands of names have yet to be typeset, and he hopes that at least 30,000 will come in to push the total over the 100,000 mark.

    There’s no charge for submitting a name and comments. To obtain a copy of an issue in which a specific name appears, Webster is asking people to send $2.00, or $5.00 for all four issues. The address is P.O. Box 400, Ft. Jones, Calif. 96032.

    Names, cities and comments can be sent by e-mail to pioneerp@sisqtel.net or faxed to 530-468-5356.

    But that won’t be the end of the Virtual Bucket Brigade.

    A website for the farmers and ranchers at www.KlamathBasinCrisis.org will be taking on the project after the final supplement is published, and the names will be posted on the Internet. After June 13, anyone wishing to show support for the farmers should send his or her name, location (city) and any comments to www.KlamathBasinCrisis.org. But until then, Webster hopes WorldNetDaily readers will keep those buckets moving down the line.

    “Maybe,” he muses, “if we get 100,000 we can go for 200,000. For that matter, why not a million?”

    Earlier story:


    ‘Us now, you’re next,’ say desperate farmers

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