Washed Out Nevada Road Symbolizes Land Use Struggle
By Cat Lazaroff
ELKO, Nevada, January 31, 2000 (ENS) - Hundreds of demonstrators marched through Elko on Saturday to protest the federal policies that have prevented the reconstruction of a washed out road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Their numbers, and their nationwide network of supporters, demonstrate the strength of the opposition facing President Bill Clinton’s proposal to ban roadbuilding in more than 40 million acres of roadless national forest lands.
"We have learned we must stand together, shoulder to shoulder, to defeat those who would destroy our way of life and the West as we know it," said State Assemblyman John Carpenter, a Republican from Elko, during Saturday's rally.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which owns the road, has refused to allow repairs, saying they would accelerate soil erosion and harm the Jarbidge River’s threatened bull trout. The river is home of the southernmost population of bull trout in North America. In 1998, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt issued an emergency declaration listing the bull trout as threatened, making the road closure permanent.
But local residents and critics of federal land use policies have adopted the Jarbidge road as a rallying point. Supporters from across the country sent shovels for the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade Parade, some arriving from as far away as Maryland and Rhode Island.
More than 3,000 people lined Elko’s main street to watch the protesters as they marched to a rally at the county courthouse. Some protesters carried signs reading, "Stop Clinton's War on the West." Others wielded shovels, many of which were delivered from Montana, where loggers and lumber mill workers have been in conflict with the USFS for years over logging restrictions aimed at protecting endangered species.
Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn gave his support to the Elko protest as well. "Since the vast majority of the public lands are in the West, perhaps the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. simply don't understand the impact their decisions have on our western way of life," said Guinn, a Republican, in a letter to Carpenter sent Friday. "Sometimes the only way to get their attention is to stand up for our rights."
Guinn said he supports opponents of "the persistent attempts of the federal government to close off access to more and more of the public lands." In particular, Guinn praised Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, for filing suit in U.S. District Court in Boise challenging President Clinton's roadless initiative.
"Closing off millions of acres of public lands without adequate input from local communities is a travesty, especially in light of the fact that more than 85 percent of Nevada's land is already controlled by the federal government," said Guinn.
In October 1999, Clinton directed the USFS to develop regulations that will permanently protect some 40 million acres of roadless National Forest lands. The proposal would more than double the wilderness land now protected from development, shutting out loggers and miners from about two thirds of America’s remaining wild lands by banning the building of new roads.
Nevada is one of several Western states who have resisted federal land use rules, and the state’s citizens have not always been friendly to federal employees. In November 1999, the supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe, Gloria Flora, resigned, citing harassment, intimidation and verbal abuse of Forest Service employees.
"It disturbs me to think that two million people in this state watch silently, or worse, in amusement, as a small percent of their number break laws and trounce the rights of others with impunity," Flora wrote in an open letter to the national forest's employees. "Worse yet, there are elected officials who actively support these offenders."
In October 1999, Carpenter organized a citizens' work crew to rebuild the road, but was thwarted by a court injunction.
Next month, Bob Vaught will assume the job of supervisor of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest national forest in the lower 48 states. Vaught worked in Elko County from 1984 to 1987 at the Mountain City Ranger District on the Humboldt forest, then served three more years as a ranger in the Toiyabe Austin District in central Nevada. There are hopes that his previous, reportedly positive, experiences in Nevada will help him relate to disgruntled citizens now.