ESA ENDANGERING NORTHWESTERNERS' LIVES

July 11, 2001 11:00 pm

The Battle for the Klamath Basin water is becoming a story of man versus nature. As more species are placed on the Endangered Species List, more Northwest families are facing the possibility of losing their livelihoods.

Over the past decade, hundreds of Northwest mills closed and thousands of timber jobs were lost. Why? Because species were listed as endangered and environmental groups found the cause of species survival a cause worth fighting for.

Now the battle appears to be shifting from the forests of the Northwest to the farms.

A once out-of-favor sucker fish has become a rallying cry for environmental groups and has pitted a federal agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, against 1,400 farm families along the Oregon-California

border.

The Bureau oversees the Klamath Project irrigation system that has been used to provide water for irrigation to these 1,400 farms. With a drought in progress in the Northwest, water has become a tight commodity and has pitted the needs of farmers against fish.

This past week, two incidents occurred when someone illegally opened an irrigation gate that allowed thousands of gallons of water to flow into ditches that transport the water to the fields.

Local law enforcement agencies observed the actions, but took no action toward arresting anyone involved. After the second incident, the federal authorities in charge were contemplating whether or not to bring in U.S. marshals to stop any more water letting.

As areas of our environment clash more and more with the perceived needs of our population, it appears that there are those in our society who are willing to sacrifice the needs of families who have for generations worked to make a living in timber and/or farming.

The Endangered Species Act is endangering the livelihood of many Northwesterners way of life or our economic market conditions. Commodity prices for wheat, apples and numerous other Northwest products are being assaulted by foreign competition; farming families also have to face the changing pressure on environmental

issues.

Is our country and region headed for a shift in who farms? Are family farms a thing of the past? Even though we hope not, it seems that both external forces and internal forces are now putting pressure on the ability of Northwest farmers to survive. It would be a sad note to see Americans become dependent on importing foodstuffs like weve become dependent on importing energy needs.

Even though we must protect our environment, we also need to protect our farmers. If we sacrifice the family farm like weve tended to sacrifice our timber industry, what will be next?