By Elaine D. Willman, MPA
One of the most debilitating conditions affecting property owners in the Western states today is an entrenched core value to respect authority, to be polite, to participate in consensus, even when results cost them dearly. These values worked quite well when federal agencies shared them. They worked well when state agencies and judicial systems shared them. That mutual respect between government and the governed has almost entirely disappeared.
For too many landowners in the Western states respect has turned to fear, even anger, and for good reason. Federal agencies are now substantially armed, are militarized and have gone entirely rogue under past administrations. State agencies are loath to confront this condition, and State sovereignty is the one primary shield between a hostile federal government and its citizenry. So we landowners are essentially on our own.
Reaction to this severe political shift within the federal government has been sadly ineffective. Far too many land and business owners have responded with: 1) hand-wringing, whining; 2) complete paralysis, silence; and/or 3) full-on appeasement and acquiescence. For Westerners, we’re becoming butterflies getting pinned live, to the mat.
Using confiscation of state waters occurring simultaneously in multiple states as example, there is a clearly discernible strategy occurring, with strikingly similar defeatist response from affected landowners.
The pattern begins with many secret years of federal policy development, then initialization of policies fully staffed and scripted to spin a benign intent to those directly affected. The tools include the Endangered Species Act, Indian federal reserve water rights, national monument policies, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, climate change and new federal “drought resilience” programs bringing the feds right onto private properties, bypassing states.
Federal policies are more often introduced as “Done Deals,” that folks can only comply with and support. The pattern includes two insidious components: 1) Getting into the local communities and instilling divisiveness among good friends and neighbors; 2) On-the-ground federal operatives masquerading as helpers to the locals who struggle with or directly oppose federal actions. Confusion and conflict reduces the collective voice among local folks such as irrigators, cattlemen, hunters, etc.
The Klamath and CSKT areas are two examples of these patterns manifesting. Irrigators are fighting amongst themselves with appeasers confronting those who oppose a federal jackboot on their property or civil rights. Western family and friendship values are so strong that local conflict becomes too painful, so many voices go silent, with a shrugged “Oh, well, there’s nothing I can do about it.” This is exactly the result federal operatives intended. There is not a united voice of irrigators vigorously opposing the removal of four dams in the Northern California, Southwest Oregon area. There is not a united voice of irrigators and water users in the Flathead reservation area vigorously opposing the federal hijacking of all water and water control.
The “Oh well” folks will have dry wells and no water soon. The failure to act guarantees it. Folks in both of these areas are land rich and cash poor, another advantage for the feds and tribes. “I’d fight but I can’t afford it…” So failure to act will likely cause the landowner to walk away from his valuable property, at a rock bottom price or direct forfeiture. Too often, neighbors will not enter the political dialogue because they don’t want to upset their neighbors and friends.
The obvious, that authentic friends would never deny a neighbor the right and need to protect his property, is apparently not a factor.
It is very painful to study, research, inform and then watch such a sophisticated federal system take down the crop production and livelihoods in one region after another, in one state after another, when the targeted landowners stay muzzled, financially risk averse, and kind to their neighbors, even if it costs them their future on their lands. The outcome is predictable. Landowners and states lose; the feds win. State sovereign authority runs or slips away; the feds win; landowners fail to act on their own behalf; they lose the future. Doing nothing today guarantees that large areas of Americas food production in the Western states will disappear with great speed.
Elaine Devary Willman, MPA, is a specialist in the field of federal Indian policy, a constant researcher, speaker, activist, and author of two books: (2005) Going to Pieces…the dismantling of the United States of America, and (2016) Slumbering Thunder…a primer for confronting the spread of federal India policy and tribalism overwhelming America. Ms. Willman attended two years of law school, has a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) and 96 credits toward a doctoral degree in federal policy. She is of strong Cherokee ancestry; her spouse is Shoshone and a direct descendant of Sacajawea. Ms. Willman has lived for 25 years on three Indian reservations (Yakama (WA), Oneida (WI), and the Flathead Indian Reservation (MT). Nearly 40 years of her professional career as community/economic development director, land use planning, and administrative services for local governments provides her a keen sense of governmental balance, required mutual respect, and necessary separations of jurisdictional authority on Indian reservations located in host towns, counties and states.