Get over it. Get over the headlines you may have seen about the Klamath Basin. Interior Secretary Gale Norton OK’d the release of a little water to the area. The implication is that while it won’t solve the problem, it will help. You might even believe the crisis is over. (You’d be wrong.)

Or maybe you didn’t see any headlines or even any mention about the crisis. Depending on where you live, it may have passed you by if the news people in your area decided it wasn’t news. They decide, after all, what you need to know. Perhaps they decided this just wasn’t one of the important ones. (Wrong again.)

Listen up folks. It was and is a crisis and it’s important to every one of us, regardless of where we live. Fifteen-hundred farms in the Klamath River Basin, along the California-Oregon border, have been bone dry since April. It wasn’t anything nature did; our government did it. To our citizens. The feds shut off the supply of irrigation water entirely. Just turned off the spigot.

It wasn’t bad enough that the area had been hit with a drought in 1991 and was reeling but recovering from that, but then the green groups got in the act with their usual tactic – threatening lawsuits to get what they want.

In this case, what they wanted was all the irrigation water to be preserved for the coho salmon and suckerfish and none for the farmers. Those fish are on the list of endangered species, and under the Endangered Species Act, when push comes to shove, nature wins. That means, people lose. In this case, all of us.

Keep in mind that the arid desert of the area was transformed into rich farm and ranchland because of water promised (and provided) to homesteaders since 1906. The whole idea was to bring people west and turn the desert into productive land; it worked. It was a package deal: The government provides the water at a reasonable price, and the people do the rest with the sweat of their brow. Never doubt it, farming and ranching is a tough life. For the people who do it, it is their life.

But that meant nothing to the environmental groups which sued under the ESA as well as fishermen and tribes seeking to protect their own interests. They persisted, a judge agreed and the feds caved. Saying they had no choice, the Bureau of Reclamation shut off the water. That was in April. The result is that pastures and farmland have been transformed back to what they were — a parched, arid desert.

The crops are gone. The pastures dry. The ranch animals moved out or sold under duress. Native wildlife dead and dying. But the fish still have their water.

But what about the people? Glad you asked.

What about them? Until a day ago, it was as though they didn’t exist. The federal government ignored their pleas. The governors of California and Oregon made no public comment. But they weren’t totally ignored. The feds sent in the National Park Police, armed of course, to stand by – showing their weapons – and telling the locals that if federal property were damaged, they were ready to shoot.

Ready to shoot? American citizens? People who were being put out of business, put out of their homes, being forced to lose everything their families had built and worked on for generations, people who were not armed nor had made any threats – these were the people our Park Police were ready and willing to shoot? Yes.

Let’s see now, what are our priorities? We put fish first — two forms of suckerfish and a salmon. And we put government property first in the arrangement as well – floodgates, water and a canal. If either are tampered with, government troops will shoot citizens. And we’re scandalized at China? Well I guess, if we put up with armed military snatching Elian Gonzales, a few farmers won’t matter. Like it or not, it could have happened.

But it didn’t because the farmers and ranchers are not violent people and did not threaten anyone – even as armed police eyed them.

What those people are, are human beings facing personal and economic devastation. Their land is worthless, their crops are gone and their livestock is being sold at a loss or just turned over to the bank. As one ranch wife told me, the animals were sold but the bank got the money even after their loan had been foreclosed. She and her husband have five children.

Just in case you have no sympathy for the farmer or rancher consider that when their livelihood is destroyed, the people working for them also lose their jobs. With no jobs, people don’t spend money so local stores lose their customers. If things are really bad, people move out. Businesses close, schools lose students, churches lose congregations, and ultimately towns die. Communities need some kind of economy to survive – but without water, everything dies.

So what now? Who knows? The damage is done even though some water is flowing. But even that may not last since the environmental groups are threatening to sue again saying the ESA is still being violated. They never quit.

Funny though, not much mention is made of the fact that much wildlife has died or moved on due to the lack of water. And almost nothing is said about the millions of migratory birds expected to make their regular stop at Klamath on their annual trip south for the winter. They’ll be expecting the usual food and water, and it won’t be there.

It probably won’t mean another lawsuit however, since the goal of the enviros isn’t really to protect nature, the real goal is to get rid of farmers and ranchers and human activity. The frightening part is that with the help of the courts, they’re succeeding.

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