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Fear & Loathing Among The Feds

The Jarbidge monster lives.

By Tim Findley

Actually, by the time the storm she had stirred was beginning to froth in its teacup, Gloria Flora was a pretty fair distance away from it–with me in Colorado. (Well, not “with,” but, as much to her surprise as mine, attending the same conference on western lands.) Back home in Nevada, there were congressional representatives from two states and bureaucrats from the usual suspect places meeting to discover just what Gloria might have meant by saying there was an “anti-government fervor” in the Silver State that so threatened federal employees it forced her to resign as Forest Service Supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
“Aw, geez, Gloria,” I had to say as I held the door open for her after dinner at the posh Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, “how can this help?” She agreed in our discussion later that what she set off wasn’t likely to produce much in the way of positive good feelings, but “fed-bashing” just had to stop somewhere.

The way word got around elsewhere in the West while Gloria and I were in lines at the Broadmoor buffet made it sound like there must be some kind of sinister militia secretly planning bad deeds against federal authorities over a little rocky road in tiny Jarbidge, Nev., a place most people have never seen and even more always mispronounce–it’s Jar-BIDGE, not Jar-Bridge. The name, in fact, comes from Shoshone talk of a demon that lived up in that canyon, and in a way, Gloria had sort of reinstituted his reputation by claiming that local resistance to closure of the road was the evil example of all resistance to well-meaning federal authority.

Well, look, the road always belonged to the county, not the feds, until it was washed out in a 1995 flood. After that, the feds said they would help fix it, and then changed their mind, essentially burying it with a wilderness trail that cut off access to former campsites. That was when the locals vowed to open their own road. Nobody, however, said they would have to bash a fed to do it.

Gloria’s problem is that a compromise couldn’t be reached to make it a one-lane ORV trail, leaving it a standoff over whose road it is and how it will be reopened. Not the biggest issue in the West, and maybe not one worth Gloria resigning over in a way that made it seem she was scared of the Jarbidge demons.

Yet what really bothers me isn’t Gloria’s completely unverified claims about intimidation of federal authorities. What really tells the tale is Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s use of that talk to make publicized telephone calls to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service bureaucrats in Nevada telling them they needn’t take the risk of attending public meetings if they feel threatened.

"It’s always the bully, isn’t it, who claims somebody else started it? Maybe if Bruce Babbitt wants that little road so bad, he might try his hand at helping local folks rebuild their hotel. Or does the Secretary need more enemies in the West than friends?"



Shovels for the Jarbidge residents were sent to fight the feds from all around the country. It’s more than the folks in the tiny Nevada town wanted.


(The Forest Service, after extensive research, has assured RANGE that there is no proof of any kind that anyone in Nevada threatened Flora or any of her employees. Even so, Flora, as we went to press, is giving speeches in Montana to talk about her negative Nevada “experience.”)speeches in Montana to talk about her negative Nevada “experience.”)

Who, I wonder, is threatening whom? Babbitt, in his usual fashion, uses the media to demonize westerners, just little folks, who object to his own demagoguery, then makes it look like he’s just concerned for the safety of his good folks (most of whom, frankly, say they don’t need the reassurance). It’s always the bully, isn’t it, who claims somebody else started it? Babbitt doesn’t really have anything to do with the road. The Forest Service is an agency of the Department of Agriculture, not Interior, but Babbitt is known in Washington to regard it all as his. Gloria’s not such a mean person. She felt as bad as I did about Jarbidge’s main bar and hotel, the Outdoor Inn, suffering a major (and unrelated) fire later that month, but we both agreed it will probably be rebuilt better than ever with the help of all the Jarbidge citizens who live in that canyon through the winter. All 30 of them.

As absurd as it is to think they ever did, I am certain I can assure the Secretary of the Interior that these people will be too busy this spring to threaten any federal agents.
Maybe if Bruce wants that little road so bad, he might try his hand at helping local folks rebuild their hotel. Or does the Secretary need more enemies in the West than friends?

Meanwhile, Dig It

Shovels by the thousands have begun piling up in Elko and many other Nevada locations. Just shovels, some sent via tractor trailer by a Montana mill owner to show his support, but most donated by individuals and families throughout the West wanting to make some gesture of their opinion about federal authority blocking the repair of Jarbidge’s South Canyon road. Shovels, thousands of shovels, stacked up for a likely July 4th gathering where the Forest Service has buried the road.

Even with a man or a woman behind every one, it would take days to repair what Forest Service bulldozers pulled down from the mountain across the road–curiously with little thought to the supposedly endangered bull trout in the stream. But the symbolism is strong–one shovel, one vote. The people of Jarbidge never wanted it this way [RANGE, “A Road Runs Through It,” Winter ’99], but the time may be coming to see how far U.S. Forest Service Director Michael Dombeck can count. Is it just to 2000?

From his hometown in Fallon, Nev., writer Tim Findley says the first day that a trailer with a big sign saying “shovels” was parked in an empty lot, it was rapidly filled with donations. The next day, others apparently misinterpreting the sign, emptied it again. The confusion has been corrected


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