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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Help is on the way for the 1,400 farm and ranch families of the Klamath River Basin, whose lives and communities were shattered last April by a court-ordered irrigation ban.

Two federal judges, in separate rulings, ordered water that is normally drawn from Upper Klamath Lake for irrigation to be withheld for the exclusive use of three species of fish the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed as endangered.

Three convoys of trucks loaded with donated livestock feed, canned food, clothing and supplies are headed for Klamath Falls. The small city in southern Oregon, once a flourishing farming area along the California-Oregon state line, has been transformed into a 200,000-acre dustbowl. (Click here for maps of the area and Klamath Falls.)

The convoys are starting from three different cities – Elko, Nev., Kalispell, Mont., and Malibu, Calif. – and will travel hundreds of miles through seven western states. They will make stops along their routes for rallies and to pick up donations of supplies and items for auction before converging tomorrow morning, “Freedom Day,” at a highway junction outside Klamath Falls. From there they’ll drive together to Main Street, where over 200 mounted horse riders known as the U.S. Freedom Cavalry, Klamath Regiment, Headgate Division, will be waiting to escort them in a banner-waving parade to the Klamath County Courthouse

There, a giant 12-foot bucket will be set up in front of the courthouse and dedicated in commemoration of the recent “Bucket Brigade.” On May 7, in a symbolic gesture of defiance to the federal ban on irrigation, farmers and their supporters formed a mile-long human chain and transported water, bucket-by-bucket, person-to-person, from Lake Ewauna at the city’s Veterans Park to the main canal of the irrigation system. The event captured the attention of the world and helped keep interest focused on the farmers and their ongoing battle with the federal government.

From the courthouse, the crowds and convoys will move to the fairgrounds for a round of speeches and the silent auction. Scheduled speakers include national talk radio host Roger Fredinburg, who will MC the event; Helen Chenoweth-Hage, former Idaho congresswoman and property-rights supporter; Holly Swanson, author of the book “Set Up and Sold Out”; Brian Burns, singer-songwriter and composer of “Kill the Land”; Grant Gerber, organizer of last summer’s Jarbidge Shovel Brigade; and Alex Schireman, who’s billed as “the man who set the water free” in reference to the July 4 cutting of the locks on the headgates to release impounded lake water.

While the fairground festivities are in full swing, Mary Starrett of KPDQ Radio in Portland will broadcast live from the headgates, where protesters have been camped since early July.

Some of the organizers of Tuesday’s “Freedom Day” celebration predict attendance will top 18,000, the estimated number of people who participated in the Bucket Brigade. The 51 buckets used in that event, which still have their ribbons attached, will be auctioned off at the fairgrounds, along with the items collected by the convoys. Included are two bull calves and a jeep.

Goal: $20 million

Convoy organizers hope to raise $20 million for the Klamath Relief Fund, a recently formed non-profit organization set up to provide immediate financial help to the farmers, though no one expects to have that amount by the end of tomorrow’s events.

“The convoys are to raise public awareness of the plight of the farmers and get the money flowing,” Grant Gerber, one of the convoy organizers, told WorldNetDaily.

Gerber, an attorney in Elko, Nev., said, “Our goal is to raise $20 million, but it will take a whole lot of things besides these convoys to raise that kind of money. We’re going to have to work hard, but our overall goal is to make sure that none of those farmers goes out of business this year. There is also concern about the support businesses in the community that are on the edge – the stores and other companies that are part of the local economy. And there are a lot of farm workers who can’t pay their rent.

“Our plan is to help them all, but take the hardest cases first – widows, veterans, seniors. Those folks come first. After we’re certain they’re taken care of or that they can take care of themselves, we’ll go to the others,” Gerber explained.

Gerber is a veteran organizer of protests against policies and actions of the federal government. WorldNetDaily covered last year’s Jarbidge Shovel Brigade road-opening, and the follow-up “Shovels to the Darby” convoy, in which several thousand shovels were trucked from Elko to central Ohio, where farmers along Big and Little Darby creeks are battling efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to turn 50,000 acres of farmland into a federal wildlife refuge. The shovels were featured at a property-rights rally held on Labor Day in London, Ohio. More recently, Gerber participated in the return of several hundred shovels for the Eureka Log Haul, a reciprocation to sawmill co-owner James Hurst, the originator of the “Shovels of Solidarity” symbol of protest. With them went a 30-foot shovel that had been installed upright on the Elko County Courthouse lawn.

From Jarbidge to Klamath Falls

Gerber recalled for WorldNetDaily his role and that of his friends in these earlier demonstrations and explained why Malibu, a small coastal community 20 miles west of Los Angeles, was chosen as the starting point for one of the convoys.

“After Jarbidge I started getting lots of calls from people for help on similar issues,” he said. “We worked on a few. Last fall, we went back to the Darby Creek area in Ohio; then we helped on the Log Haul, carrying those shovels back to Eureka. I was invited to do a lot of stuff, but didn’t. But I did help on those, and as a result I got a call from some folks in Malibu who wanted help. They’re having lots of trouble with the National Park Service, the California Coastal Commission and the county of Los Angeles. All of a sudden these environmental issues are coming home to roost, even for people near the cities.”

While planning strategies with Malibu activists, Gerber was contacted by their counterparts in the Klamath Basin.

“About six weeks ago, the people in Malibu invited me to visit with them, and it just fit when the folks in Klamath flew to Elko and asked if I would help coordinate what they were doing.”

Gerber said the Klamath activists at first wanted to discuss legal options and “talked to me as an attorney. But I told them, ‘Look, what you need is some activism. You need to cause some trouble for the administration to get them going.’ I was excited because by that time someone had cut the locks on the headgate and it was getting serious, so I agreed to help.”

A series of brainstorming sessions followed, in which the idea of a convoy, and then several convoys, took shape. So, too, did the decision to have two gigantic buckets constructed. Jess Lopategui, the Elko blacksmith who forged the 30-foot shovel, built one of the buckets; a blacksmith in Salt Lake City constructed the second.

“This has grown by leaps and bounds,” says Gerber, noting that there are rumors of other convoys heading to Klamath Falls from places that aren’t along the routes of the three.

The first convoy started Wednesday, following a noon rally at the Malibu Pier, which was attended by about 50 people. Gerber and his 15-year-old son, Zachary, were there, having driven down from Elko, Nev.

“We decided to start the convoy in Malibu south of the mountains, because we felt bringing the water of the Pacific Ocean to the Klamath Basin was a powerful symbol,” explained Candy Stoutenborough, a local organizer of the rally. “We had talked to Grant [Gerber] some months ago, and he asked us to do the kickoff. A huge steel bucket had been made in Salt Lake City for us and brought all the way from Utah. It was sitting there on a flatbed truck. We handed out information and gave away some plastic beach buckets, and we sold some of the shovels that had been used at Jarbidge to open the road.”

Local sponsors of the convoy and rally included the Blue Ribbon Coalition – a group seeking to preserve recreational access to public lands, the Los Angeles County Farm Bureau, the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition, the Reform Party and the Santa Monica Mountains Inholders Association.

Stoutenborough works with the board of the latter organization, a group of property owners within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The 150,000-acre federal jurisdiction is administered by the National Park Service and includes 75,000 acres of private holdings and four state parks within its boundaries, including miles of beaches from Santa Monica to Point Mugu.

Stoutenborough sees strong similarities between the Klamath Basin controversy and the problems faced by those who live in the Santa Monica Mountains. In both cases property owners are denied the use of their land.

“We feel that cutting off the water is comparable to legislating you out of doing something with your land,” Stoutenborough said. “So many onerous conditions have been placed on our property owners that they are less and less able to use their land, and it is gradually devalued. They’re not allowed to do something as simple as put up a fence without getting a permit. There are so many hoops to jump through that it ends up that you can’t do anything with your land and the government comes in and buys it at a depressed price, which is what they’re trying to do up at Klamath.”

Said Stoutenborough, “This is a national recreation area, one of the biggest in the country, but you really can’t do anything here. There are almost no places to camp, and you can’t run horses – that is, you can ride a horse here, but there’s no place to rent one, and the people who have horses are being hassled about conditional use permits for keeping them or boarding them for others. The Coastal Commission has recently said you can’t put a fence around your property. For people who have horses, sheep or cows – how are they going to keep them from wandering onto the road?”

Following the Malibu rally, the convoy began the 700-mile drive up Interstate 5 towards Klamath Falls, with stops at Bakersfield, Tulare, Fresno, Modesto and points north.

Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican whose district includes Stockton, Calif., and the surrounding agricultural community, traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend a Saturday rally in his district. Pombo, who in June chaired a field hearing inquiring about the shutting off of irrigation water, drew upon his personal observations in Oregon to frame a statement.

“I have been to Klamath Falls and have seen firsthand how devastating the shutting off of water has been to families in the area,” Pombo said. “People count. It’s time our environmental policies reflected that. I’m proud of the Klamath Bucket Brigade and the sacrifices they are making.”

Pombo, a long-time advocate for property rights, was a farmer before being elected to Congress in 1994. He is co-author, with WorldNetDaily editor and CEO Joseph Farah, of “This Land is Our Land – How to End the War on Private Property.”

The local rallies have been organized by volunteers in the different communities eager to show their support for the farmers, with whose plight they readily identify.

“We’re right in the middle of the farming area,” said Kathy Kampschmidt, who handled arrangements for the Saturday afternoon rally at the John Deere dealership in Willows, Calif., an agricultural community 88 miles north of Sacramento along Interstate 5.

“Farming is our economy here in Willows, and everyone knows that what happened to the Klamath farmers could happen to us in a heartbeat,” said Kampschmidt. “I’ve heard that [environmentalists] are looking for a little salamander – so it could happen to any of us, to have the water flat out denied because of some creature or fish.”

Kathy and her husband, Ron, in addition to farming 1,400 acres of rice, have a small trucking operation that serves the surrounding rural area. Their business has been directly impacted by the water shut-off 230 miles to the north.

No different than a hurricane

“When they shut off water to the farmers and they couldn’t plant potatoes, we had to park the truck because we usually haul fertilizer to them,” said Kampschmidt. “And we often hauled hay for Bob King (a Klamath Basin rancher), so when Bob [King] phoned me and asked if I’d help with the convoy, I said, ‘yes.’ To me, what happened to those farmers up there is no different than if a hurricane hit them, or a fire – they’ve been wiped out.

“My heart goes out to those people, so for the last six days I’ve been doing nothing but work on this rally. I contacted different organizations and networked the irrigation districts to bring them on board. They’re all sponsoring the convoy and sending speakers to our rally,” she said.

As the convoys near their destination, reports are that enthusiasm is high. But at the same time, for some, there’s a feeling that this should not be necessary since, after all, the administration could do something.

Pointing to the reason behind the convoys and “Freedom Day,” Gerber reiterated, “The primary purpose of the convoys is raising public awareness and money to help the people of the community; but almost equal with that it’s to let the Bush administration people know that we put them there and we expect them to do the right thing and open those headgates.”

Gerber added, “As an attorney I can tell you that all President Bush and [Interior] Secretary Norton have to do is say, ‘open the head gates and release that water.’ That’s all they’d have to do.”

Earlier Klamath Basin stories:

Feds reject plea for ‘God Squad’

Virtual Bucket Brigade supports farmers

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

Jarbidge Shovel Brigade stories:

Eureka Log Haul: ‘It’s payback time!’

Shovel Brigade heads East

Shovel Brigade takes on ‘roadless’ policy

Nevada lawmaker vows to reopen road

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