Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Siskiyou County is a special place

Browbeating the feds

Fresh from having browbeaten two national forest supervisors into presumed submission, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors set their sights on the National Marine Fisheries Service last week.  Backed by right wing consultants and middle-level timber company executives, a dominant faction on the board- professes to believe that the federal government must “co-ordinate” its policies with county policy as defined by the supervisors.  They appear to believe that in the case of policy conflicts, county policy must prevail.

Flood Irrigation, Scott River Valley, October 30th, 2007
By law irrigation is supposed to end on October 15th
Out-of-season irrigation is a common, illegal practice in the Scott River Valley

In the case of the National Marine Fisheries Service what these supervisors want is likely something akin to the “special” treatment they got in the California State Coho Recovery Plan. In a move which infuriated other stakeholders, the California Fish and Game Commission designated Siskiyou County’s Scott and Shasta Valley a recovery “Pilot Project” where the “voluntary approach” to compliance with California environmental laws favored by farmers and ranchers will be followed.  So far that “voluntary approach” has facilitated the progressive dewatering of these valleys, hidden “take” at diversions via bogus “fish rescue” and tried to justify it all with special valley-wide  ”take” permits which California courts quickly threw out because they don’t follow the very laws state officials swear to uphold.

California state government’s rancher-dictated approach to salmon recovery in the Scott and Shasta River Valleys amounts to using taxpayer money to lease the water fish need to survive. Now that taxpayer dollars have become scarce, the Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) has resorted to begging for a little water. KlamBlog was on hand last week in Fort Jones to witness DFG’s pleas on behalf of the fish.

Many salmon advocates oppose paying for the water they say fish have a right to under California law.  The plain language of Fish and Game Code 5937 appears to back them up. 

As for the national forests, the supervisors’ strategy appears to be to keep the pressure on federal decision makers to tow the county line on forest transportation decisions and logging projects while working for legislation that would give the county direct management control. The legislative scheme – along with other strategies – is detailed in the recently-adopted Siskiyou County National Forest Accountability Project – which was cooked up with the help of a couple of timber companies. Supervisor Michael Kobseff will lead an effort to enlist Senator Diane Feinstein and Congressman Wally Herger to sponsor legislation giving the county management control of the entire Klamath and portions of the Shasta National Forests.   
A special history

When it comes to county chutzpa there are few counties in the USA which can compare with the Klamath River Basin’s Siskiyou County. Usually counties concern themselves with issues like crime and whether to let that new box store in. But most Siskiyou County politicians appear to be obsessed with what other government are doing and with the idea that they have the right to dictate policy to those other governments. In essence, Siskiyou County attempts to stand the government pyramid you learned about in civics class on its head. As they see it, they are closest to the people and so should tell other governments what to do.

The Siskiyou County obsession with control goes back to the days just before and after statehood. When Federal Agent Redick McKee tried to provide the Indigenous Shasta inhabitants with a treaty and a reservation stretching from Scott Valley to the Oregon border, white miners, ranchers and politicians protested loudly and whittled it down to a fraction that size. When McKee left the area they immediately began demanding that the treaties not be ratified by the Senate. As in other places in California, a campaign was organized to “exterminate” the Indians. These white citizens figured that if there were no Indians there could not be a reservation. While some looked the other way or even protested, the public campaign to "exterminate" all remaining Indigenous inhabitants dominated and nearly succeeded.

Most California counties have moved beyond the sort of racism that led to campaigns of extermination; some have undertaken truth and reconciliation processes. In Humboldt County, for example, the renaming and return of the island where a bloody massacre of native women and children occurred was not too long ago the occasion for healing and reconciliation. But Siskiyou County seems stuck in a sordid past which is officially denied but which haunts county politics and social relations.  Hostility toward the two tribes based in the county – the Karuk Tribe and the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation – and toward Indigenous natives generally is never far from the surface in this rural county and sometimes finds open expression.               


Over the past 15 years, Siskiyou County boards have adopted several documents mandating federal and state coordination with county policies. And while it would be tempting to dismiss the documents as rhetorical political statements without force of law, they would not be replicated if they had not proven effective at some level.  The success in getting the “special” treatment they believe they deserve via California’s Coho “Pilot Project” has apparently encouraged the Siskiyou Supervisors to pursue the same sort of approach in other venues.  

A long line of Siskiyou County supervisors – not to mention school superintendents, DAs and sheriffs - have been rewarded for demanding that other governments and their officials tow the local line. KlamBlog previously documented how California CDFG officials kowtow to county policy on fish, water and stream access issues.  Appeasing such bullying simply encourages more demands.

The dominant faction among Siskiyou County Supervisors (Ed Valenzuela who represents the Mt. Shasta-Dunsmuir area does not appear to approve) have now set their sights on the federal recovery plan for Southern Oregon Northern California Coast Coho (SONCC Coho).  The SONCC Coho “evolutionary significant unit” or ESU spans two states and all or parts of three counties in Oregon and five counties in California. The Siskiyou Supervisors’ faction has not indicated how it intends to "coordinate" with these other governments.

Will Siskiyou County again be recognized as “special” in the federal Coho Recovery Plan?

Stay tuned.

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