I left a little after 11 a.m. for Portland. Bob Skinner said the
weather was fine and he was leaving in his airplane from Jordan
Valley to Troutdale via McDermit at the same time. I joined him
and his passengers, George Wilkinson and Hugh Smart, at the Troutdale
When we got to downtown Portland, we drove by the new Mark O.
Hatfield Federal District Courthouse so we could do a reconnaissance
on the next mornings objective. We scoped out hotel prices with
Bobs cell phone and settled on the lowest priced one with food
and a watering hole close by. It was within walking distance of
I met them and two more Jordan Valley ranchers for breakfast at
7 the next morning. They had been up since 4 a.m., visiting, symptoms
of one time zone change and calving heifers.
We spent the next two hours waiting for the 9:30 hearing time
in Judge Reddons court on the issue of whether 54 families in
the Owyhee Canyon lands would lose their grazing permits and their
way of life, forever. We talked about cougars, wolves, good dogs,
trichomoniasis, AMPs, AOPs, road conditions, cattle and country.
We did not talk about the hearing.
At the courthouse we went through the metal detector and the ranchers
checked their pocket knives with the guard. We were awe-struck
by the white and black marble entry with two-story waterfalls
in the pillars and on the wall. Huge words inscribed in stone
offer dramatic phrases about JUSTICE. It did not say how much
justice would cost, although the ambiance suggested plenty.
On the 15th floor in Reddons court is more marble, abundantly
embellished with imported wood seats, tables, the bench, and trim.
Can there be marble left in quarries after this? Is there a clear-cut
in some rain forest to get this wood? Was there an environmentalist
chained to a tree in protest?
The lawyers took their places, ours on the left, BLMs center,
Oregon Natural Desert Associations (ONDA) on the right. Like
at a wedding we sat on the left side and filled our section with
ranchers from eastern Oregon communities. Sherril Anderson, whose
husband Jim was claimed by the Owyhee River little more than a
year ago, was there.
On the right side Bill Marlette, director of ONDA, and a few others
came and went during the proceeding. I saw no mingling of the
two groups, heard not a single exchange, so any other similarities
to a wedding evaporated. BLM supporters got as near to the center
in the back as they could.
The judge opened the proceedings by stating the issues that brought
us here: ONDA was seeking an injunction against the ranchers that
would force them to remove all cattle from allotments in the 186
miles of the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River corridor based on their
contention that cattle were destroying the outstandingly remarkable
values for which the river was designated. The injunction was
requested to be immediate.
Heavy irony struck me that we who fought the Oregon Omnibus Wild
and Scenic Rivers Act so hard over 10 years ago were now sitting
in the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, dedicated to the senator who
wrote, sponsored, and hammered through that bill with the help
of environmentalists who were now suing us based on that act.
I wondered what the ex-senator was doing today as we listened
to ONDAs lawyer say that grazing hammered the riparian areas
of the Owyhee. I wondered if he would care; what he would see
if he looked into the eyes of these courageous, beleaguered few
ranchers who are trying to save their livelihoods and preserve
a way of life. I had written him, and all of Oregons 1988 congressional
delegation and their current replacements, when the lawsuits started,
to remind them of their promises. The fact that those rivers and
streams met the criteria for Wild and Scenic after 130 years of
grazing assured that grazing, using the same good management practices,
would continue unchanged.
I wonder if Sen. Hatfield is proud of that act and the Endangered
Species Act and others that we who make our living from the land
have to deal with every day, that cost us so much. I wonder that
men are honored by having their names carved on buildings and
yet have left such a bitter legacy.
Would those revolutionaries who pledged their lives, their fortunes
and their sacred honor be outraged that the system of governance
they conceived could turn on the very citizens it was designed
to serve and protect?
I want to look Mr. Hatfield in the face and say about this full
blown nightmare, Come join us in the courtroom and listen to
the arguments that demean and disparage what we do on this land,
that make judgments and even resort to lies about our lives, our
purpose, and our intentions even though they, like you, have never
seen this land let alone walked it, communed with it, read it,
understood it and loved it like these few ranchers do. Come sit
with me on this polished wood and feel the tension all around
us caused by the knowledge that one man will decide our future
based on evidence brought to him by people who care nothing about
the whole truth. Hear the short release of cynical laughter when
the complainants attorney says ranchers are not in the cattle
business to make a profit anyway, and listen in disbelief as he
offers the judge a compromise that would allow some of the cattle
to stay on allotments that have no areas of critical environmental
concerns for this year and then take all of them off next year
which he believes would give the ranchers time to find a place
to take the tens of thousands of cattle.
I want Mr. Hatfield to remind the complainants and the judge of
what he said in a letter to me: The intent of the law is to preserve
the existing character of the riversnot to turn them into wilderness
areas or withdraw them from multiple use activities.... The Forest
Services Handbook makes it quite clear that existing practices
can continue.... Although row crops are prohibited in wild river
segments, grazing and hay production are allowed to the extent
I want to remind Mr. Hatfield that he wrote, I do not believe
that the act represents a danger to agricultural interests, and
intend to scrutinize the administration of the law (once it is
enacted) to ensure that private property rights are not invaded.
In another letter he assured me he intended to watch closely
the Forest Service and the BLM as they administer the rivers to
ensure that private property rights and activities are not trampled
on and abused.
He did not answer my letter telling him how it was working.
I would remind the Hon. Les AuCoin that when he heard the Forest
Services testimony indicate that ...designation would have little
effect on day-to-day management of the river corridor he was
confident that these statements will be born out.... If they
are not, I would welcome the opportunity to hear from you again,
to help resolve any conflicts you see arising. I see a conflict,
Mr. AuCoin heard from me, but he did not answer and has not helped.
The Hon. Peter DeFazio in a handwritten note said I had received
some very misleading information on the bill...grazing and ag
practices are fully protected under the act. He urged me to reread
my copy of the act to help correct the misinformation I had. I
did. He did not answer my letter telling him of the removal of
grazing from the Donner und Blitzen wild and scenic river two
Senator Bob Packwood wrote me not long after the bill was passed....
The law will allow...the continuation of all existing uses that
are in accordance with the...Act. For instance, agricultural uses,
such as grazing and farming, will not be affected by this law.
He wrote me again after I told him about the environmentalists
Donner und Blitzen lawsuit opposing grazing. I am shocked by
your letter. I had no idea this outrageous, unfair situation had
happened to you. I dont understand it.
Representative Denny Smith voted for the bill after getting language
included that said, The Committee recognizes that a variety of
uses including, but not limited to, such activities as grazing,
timber harvest, mining, agriculture, utility, transportation,
and residential uses will continue to take place on private and
public lands within the wild and scenic corridors. We continue
to disagree on the outcome.
Representative Ron Wyden praised the bill in the Congressional
Record and assured us that our fears that the bill would be used
to dispossess ranchers of long held rights on public and private
land were groundless. Now he is a senator. He did not answer my
letter of two years ago telling him how the environmental industries
were using the 1988 Act.
Eighty-five percent of the rivers and streams proposed in the
Hatfield bill were in Congressman Bob Smiths district and he
never once wavered in his opposition of the bill. He knew it would
come to no good end. He attempted amendments that failed because
he had no support from the rest of the Oregon congressional delegation.
So this is another chapter in a story of consistent betrayal of
the natural resource industries. Every one of those people had
his reasons, excuses, agendas. Once the bill was passed we began
to see emphasis on words change: protect and preserve the outstandingly
remarkable values for which the river was included in the wild
and scenic designation metamorphosed into protect and enhance
or preserve and enhance.
The environmental interests could no longer see a rivers wild
beauty if any sign of man or mans activities were present. They
could not happily recreate if they could see a cow on a distant
hillside while rafting a river and God forbid if they should see
a tree stump. They attempt to convince judges that rivers and
streams cannot function in the presence of livestock or timber
harvest, mining or farming. They lead them away from the facts
that, according to BLM assessments, show the Owyhee to be 98 percent
fully functioning, two percent designated functioning-at-risk
in an upward trend and zero non-functioning or in a downward trend.
They avoid information that shows less than 20 percent of the
entire wild and scenic river segment to be accessible at all by
livestock. There is no harm to the values for which the Owyhee
River was included in the bill.
As I sat in that court room I wished with a passion that I could
dub over the present day arguments about the Owyhee, Senator Hatfields
own words now a part of the Congressional Record from Oct. 7,
1988: The act does not attempt to undo developments which are
already in place, nor does it attempt to interfere with activities
which already exist in the designated river area. For example,
timber harvesting, mining, agriculture, grazing and the recreational
uses are all grandfathered uses in the act and are allowed to
continue to the extent they are currently practiced; if a rancher
has cattle grazing in a designated river corridor, that grazing
would be allowed to continue. In fact, with our programs designed
to enhance and restore riparian areas from overgrazing, I can
envision the day when it would be possible for grazing units to
increase with improved riparian management.
So many promises made, so many broken!
In fact riparian areas have improved as have whole watersheds,
and all in the presence of livestock grazing, managed by these
same ranchers who sit to be judged by a man who has never walked
a mile in their boots. Indeed, he cannot ever walk a mile in their
boots because there is no way for him to duplicate their multi-generational
frame of reference, their philosophy of life, their sense of their
own purpose and worth, their loyalty to whats right and whats
good, who believe they were chosen by God to do what they do and
who never expected to be judged by other than Him.
Now the hearing is over, the arguments have been made and the
wait has begun. Those ranchers who flew or drove the long distance
went back to their ranches where calves were being born, where
signs of spring renewed hope of early grass. They got calls from
their neighbors to ask about the hearing and when a decision would
come about their fate.
Our lawyers did good, theyll say, dont know how he can rule
against us. No way to tell how long until he rules.
The ranchers of the Owyhee will go on about their work but at
the edge of their mind will be the judges impending decision.
They will second guess what the lawyers said or didnt say, they
may do some what ifs, I shouldas, I wishes, but ultimately they
will settle on the belief that this one man who should not have
such power over their lives, but does, will rule in our favor.
The alternative is unthinkable.
Sharon Beck is president of the Oregon Cattlemens Association.