EDITORIAL:Jarbidge canyon deal

from the Las Vegas Review Journal

We "received threats and intimidation from the government up until election time, and then they (federal officials) became cooperative," says Nolan Lloyd, chair man of the Elko County Commission.

The timing of the shift in federal policy toward the South Canyon Road, near the Idaho border north of Elko, gives a strong signal that the incoming administration of George W. Bush -- with Interior Secretary Gale Norton -- may curb or even roll back the eight-year campaign of the Clinton White House, which used the feeblest of pretexts to fence off more and more of the rural west from virtually all human access.

After 1995 floods washed out a mile-and-a-half section of the 100-year-old road -- a dead-end dirt and gravel access for camping and fishing along the remote Jarbidge River, the Forest Service initially promised to make repairs.

A year went by, and then two. County officials began to wonder why the repair project was taking so long.

They found out in June of 1998. The three-year hiatus had given federal officials all the time they needed to hunt around for a politically correct pretext for refusing to re-open the Jarbidge Road. The Virginia-based environmental group Trout Unlimited suddenly discovered that renewed vehicular traffic would harm the "endangered" bull trout. The Forest Service promptly announced the road would henceforth exist only as an unimproved hiking trail.

Around the West the pattern has become familiar, usually steamrolling without difficulty the isolated resistance of a few hunters, ranchers, and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts.

Elko County proved different, however. The County Commission stepped forward and claimed control over the road. ... Then, last Fourth of July, hundreds of members of the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade, wielding shovels donated by sympathizers across the West, marched up the road and restored several hundred feet of its surface by hand. ...

Now, it appears Washington has thrown in the towel entirely.

Reached Friday, Nevada Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said he was ... prohibited from discussing details. However, "It's a pretty big victory for us," Mr. Carpenter said. "The county had to get their road back in order to agree. So you can put two and two together."

Few object to the preservation of a few limited, pristine sites, as originally intended by Congress. But the wide-ranging campaign to fence off vast swathes of the rural West from any profitable human use has gone on much too long. If the new administration really intends to apply a more common sense standard -- leaving many more such decisions to local discretion -- that will mark a welcome change, indeed.

from the Las Vegas Review Journal

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