Elko's Shovel Brigade activists plan convoy to Florida

Associated Press
Published 07. 17. 02 at 0:04 Sierra Time

ELKO, Nev. (AP) -- Jarbidge Shovel Brigade members battling the Forest Service over protection of a threatened fish are planning a cross-country convoy to southern Florida this fall to support farmers who say they are being swamped out by the federal government.

The local brigade will team up with Klamath Bucket Brigade from Oregon and volunteers from Ohio to lead a fund-raising auction similar to one that helped raise money for farmers in Oregon's Klamath Basin last year, the Elko Daily Free Press reported.

Brigade members say the problem in Dade County is similar to those in Elko and Klamath because it involves placing the needs of endangered species above man's property rights.

But Shovel Brigade attorney Grant Gerber of Elko said farmers in Florida are facing a different situation than in Oregon -- instead of having their water shut off by the federal government, they are being flooded out.

More flooding is planned this year, according to David Friedrichs, executive director of the Dade County Farm Bureau. Damage to crops has exceeded $100 million, he said.

The Shovel Brigade has been asserting Elko County's right of way on the South Canyon Road in the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest at Jarbidge, where listing of bull trout under the Endangered Species Act has blocked repair of the road washed out in a flood.

Klamath farmers contacted Gerber for help when the Bureau of Reclamation shut off their irrigation water to preserve lake levels for short-nosed sucker fish and coho salmon, also listed under the Endangered Species Act.

A sparrow is the source of controversy in southern Florida.

"The environmentalists claim that flooding is necessary to protect the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow," Friedrichs wrote in a letter to the shovel and bucket brigades.

"Imminently qualified scientists have disputed their claims, but the federal government is persisting in bringing destruction to our families by destroying our private land."

Agriculture is the second-largest industry in Miami's Dade County, where farmers grow citrus fruit, avacados, mangoes, winter tomatoes and a number of other crops.

Instead of a "Sagebrush Rebellion," farmers in the area are planning a "Sawgrass Rebellion." Sawgrass is the preferred nesting ground of the endangered sparrow.

Scientists say about 2,704 of the olive, yellow and white songbirds exist in the Everglades. The sparrow is called a Goldilocks bird because it needs water depths "just right" to lay eggs.

Environmentalists fear the Cape Sable sparrow remains at risk to perish like its cousin, the dusky seaside sparrow. Some 1,900 duskies were alive in 1968, but a dozen years later the last wild dusky had perished.

Friedrichs said the Army Corps of Engineers has been manipulating water levels in the region for years "with flagrant disregard for their own prescribed procedures."

He said the agency has allowed water levels to rise and, coupled with heavy rains, the water table is so high it is harming the roots of plants. The trees could begin dropping their fruit or die because of it, he said.

"So our situation has moved from one of antagonism and irritation to outright critical," he said.

In 1989, Congress passed a law directing the Army Corps of Engineers to construct flood protection around the area, Friedrichs said.

"Everybody agreed that this project would deliver the required water to the Everglades National Park," Friedrichs said, as well as the appropriate supplies for agriculture, industrial users such as rock mines, and for public consumption.

That was 13 years ago, but still nothing has been built.

In the mid-1990s, the agencies began working to modify the water delivery plan because of the endangered sparrow, Friedrichs said.

Farmers on Florida's Gulf Coast also are being affected and will participate in the "Sawgrass Rebellion," said Don Lester of Naples. He said about 4,000 people from his area will join the convoy in October.

Friedrichs and Lester said they were impressed with the success of the shovel and bucket brigades in getting water restored to Klamath farmers. Farmers in the basin have been getting their full water supply, according to Bucket Brigade President Bill Ransom, but water release expectations are being lowered because of a return to drought conditions.

Dale Rapp of Darby, Ohio, said farmers and other property owners there will join the convoy. They still have hundreds of shovels that the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade sent to help in their successful battle against the federal government. Plans to buy out farmers for a wildlife refuge have been dropped, he said.

Elko's giant shovel, which once stood on the courthouse lawn, will be taken on the Florida convoy as well as a giant bucket built for Klamath's demonstrations.

Gerber said cross-country convoys were in the planning stages last year when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. They were postponed again this spring after the government agreed to restore water to Klamath farmers.


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