- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Suppose you are a military veteran who had moved out West with the promise of the federal government that it would irrigate the land forever so you could farm. Suppose one day, decades later, that same government takes the water away so that an endangered fish could have it, thereby violating its contract with you. Suppose you have just joined 1,500 other farmers in this fate. Then you would be living in Klamath Falls, Ore.

In an area near the Oregon-California border, a water war is being waged over a fish. Some 200,000 acres of land, covering about 85 percent of the farms, are without water because a federal judge ruled in April that the suckerfish that live in the nearby Upper Klamath Lake have first rights to the water supply. By ignoring the fate of the farmers, violating the contractual water arrangements, using junk science and pushing aside current studies showing that the fish is not endangered, the environmentalists and the courts have made the fateful decision that fish are more important than people.

Sen. Gordon Smith, Oregon Republican, who protested the decision alongside 15,000 residents, said "We must never say that it is OK that a suckerfish is more valuable under the law than a farm family." Too bad the Bush administration does not see it this way. Interior Secretary Gale Norton agreed with the Bureau of Reclamation that the science and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) demand that the fish come first. But the affected farmers want Mrs. Norton to call a meeting of the so-called "god squad" a group of presidential advisers formally known as the Endangered Species Committee to be convened under a provision of the ESA. This group could let the farmers opt-out of the law in dire circumstances. To be sure, the fact that 1,500 family farms in one farming community are going bankrupt is dire.

The farmers also see dishonesty in the whole affair, and are accusing environmentalists of using the ESA to buy up their land at fire sale prices. Indeed, the value of the farmland affected by the suckerfish scare has dropped from $800 to $50 an acre. This follows the same methodology used in the past and continuing today all over the country where environmentalists suddenly find a so-called endangered species on the land, lobby for its protection, destroy logging, mining and grazing enterprises, then buy up the land for a song. This is not the intended use of the ESA, and the farmers of Klamath Falls are a rallying cry to amend the law using common sense, real science and the novel idea of putting people before animals. Wish them luck.

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