The nearly five-hour drive from the Sacramento area to Yreka, in Siskiyou County by the Oregon border, was a reminder not just of the immense size and beauty of California, but of the vast regional and cultural differences one finds within our 37-million-population state. Sacramento is Government Central, a land of overpensioned bureaucrats and restaurant discounts for state workers. But way up in the North State, one finds a small but hard-edged rural populace that views state and federal officials as the main obstacles to their quality of life.
Their latest battle is to stop destruction of four hydro-electric dams along the Klamath River. Most locals say the dam-busting will undermine their property rights and ruin the local farming and ranch economy, which is all that’s left since regulators destroyed the logging and mining industries. These used to be wealthy resource-based economies, but now many of the towns are drying up, with revenues to local governments evaporating. Unemployment rates are in the 20 percent and higher range. Nearly 79 percent of the county’s voters opposed the dam removal in a recent advisory initiative, but that isn’t stopping the authorities from blasting the dams anyhow.
These rural folks, living in the shadow of the majestic Mount Shasta, believe that they are being driven away so that their communities can essentially go back to the wild, to conform to an extremist preference for wildlands above humanity. As the locals told it during the Defend Rural America conference at the Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds a week ago Saturday night, pushy officials are treading on their liberties, traipsing unannounced on their properties, confronting local ranchers with guns drawn to enforce arcane regulatory rules and destroying their livelihoods in the process.
The evening’s main event: A panel featuring eight county sheriffs (seven from California and one from Oregon) who billed themselves as “Constitution Sheriffs.” They vowed to stand up for the residents of their communities against what they say is an unconstitutional onslaught from regulators in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. In particular, they took issue with the federal government’s misnamed Travel Management Plan, which actually is designed to shut down public travel in the forests. Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood related the stir he caused when he said that he “will not criminalize citizens for just accessing public lands.” Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey reminded the crowd that county sheriffs are sworn to uphold the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
As someone who has covered law-enforcement issues in urban Southern California, it’s refreshing to hear peace officers enunciate the proper relationship between themselves and the people. I could pick nits. For all the complaining about the feds, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko had just been quoted in the newspaper praising the Obama administrations for its crackdown on medical marijuana clinics, even though state law clearly allows such clinics. One’s either for state control or not.
I hadn’t been in Yreka long before someone handed me a popular joke. A federal agent shows up at a farm and demands to check out the property. The farmer says OK, but tells him not to go over to one pasture. Then the agent arrogantly tells him he has a federal badge and can go wherever he darn well pleases. The farmer says OK. A few minutes later, the agent is running for his life from a bull. The agent calls for help, so the farmer goes to the fence and yells: “Show him your badge.”
It’s funny but anger-inducing. We’ve got a real sagebrush rebellion brewing in rural California. Urban legislators can ignore it at their own peril.
Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at email@example.com.