Eastern Oregon county bans U.N., frees trees for taking, notwithstanding applicable federal laws - Rebels With a Vote Vent Anger With Government


Published in the Herald-Republic on Saturday, June 1, 2002

JOHN DAY, Ore. -- Removed from the hassle of urban life, residents of this eastern Oregon ranch and timber region are a self-reliant lot. Hard winters and a depressed economy have forged hardscrabble attitudes toward outsiders and "the government."

Grant County voters have raised eyebrows by passing two ballot measures on May 21, Oregon's primary day.

One bans the United Nations in Grant County; the other would let local residents cut trees on federal land, whether or not the U.S. Forest Service says it's legal or environmentally acceptable.

The two measures -- passed by about 2-to-1 margins -- arise from anger and frustration felt by many residents who sense they no longer control their lives, their livelihoods or the land.

"We intend to push the limit, push the envelope on this," said Dave Traylor, a stocky, bearded jack-of-all-trades who helped write the measures.

Home to about 7,500 people, Grant County is a a place where cowboy hats, hay farms and horse trailers are ubiquitous, where the high school teams are the "Prospectors," and the two local radio stations play either Christian or country music.

The county covers an area about the size of Connecticut. More than 60 percent of that land is managed by the federal government. The jobless rate, 13.5 percent, is the second-highest in Oregon.

Backers of the two measures passed by voters on May 21 blame federal timber policies and environmental restrictions which they say are keeping them off public lands that had given them jobs as loggers, mill workers and ranchers.

It is the latest conflict to arise in the West with federal authorities.

In San Bernardino County, Calif., ranchers chafing at cattle grazing restrictions imposed to protect the threatened desert tortoise were supported recently by Sheriff Gary Penrod, who canceled an agreement that gave Bureau of Land Management officers authority to enforce state laws on federal land.

In the Klamath Basin, on the Oregon-California border, farmers and others last year had tense confrontations with the Bureau of Reclamation over its decision to give irrigation water to endangered fish rather than farmers.

Also last year, residents in northeast Nevada defied the Forest Service by attempting to rebuild a washed-out stretch of road in Elko County, work the Forest Service had ruled would threaten the bull trout. The confrontation lasted months.

In Grant County , the degree of frustration was reflected in the votes.

The measure banning the United Nations from Grant County passed 1,326-959; the measure saying that local residents are allowed to harvest timber on federal land passed 1,512-745. Of the county's 4,591 eligible voters, 53 percent cast ballots.

Sherry Dress is a homeopath and midwife who also runs a natural food store in John Day, a town of 1,830 named for a member of the John Jacob Astor overland expedition of 1811-12.

Dress' view is fairly common in Grant County: The government is dominated by "ultra radical liberal people" who look down their noses at the concerns of local residents.

"They look at it as vigilante stuff. It's not. We're a morally committed, Christian society," Dress said.

"We're not a bunch of right-wing wackos," said 66-year-old Herb Brusman, another organizer of the measures.

Supporters hope to push the Forest Service into allowing more logging. They say millions of board feet of timber could be salvaged simply by allowing people to cut those big ponderosa pines and firs that are hazards.

"If we could just address salvage on the dead, dying and blowdown, we could provide a lot of trees to the mills," said Traylor.

Dennis Reynolds , who as Grant County judge serves as its chief administrator, said something has to be done to help the people of his county.

"I wish the general public would just understand what these people are going through in terms of rules and regulations. It just never ends," Reynolds said.

He said the county government likely will endorse a plan to allow residents to cut dead, dying and wind-damaged trees on federal land.

"The question now is, what is the federal government going to do?" he said. "These people are lashing out in the only way they can. Now we have people willing to go to jail over this issue."

Roger Williams, deputy supervisor of the Malheur National Forest, which manages more than 1 million acres of forested land in the county, hopes to avoid conflict.

"We're looking into what we can do to relieve some of the pressure that led these people to put this measure on the ballot," said Williams.

The other measure -- the one banning the United Nations from Grant County -- is an embarrassment to some people in the county.

The measure states that the United Nations wants to take away people's guns, seize private property, control the education of children and establish "one world religion-Pantheism (and) world taxation."

Stacie Holmstrom, 35, a lifelong John Day resident, said the measure blasting the United Nations was too radical.

"I thought that was a real extreme idea," she said. "Grant County sometimes has that stigma anyway -- that we're 'out there' -- and this is just going to add to that."

But there are others in the county who profess to believe the claims made by the measure.

Road signs proclaiming Grant County a "UN-free zone" are going up.

"The U.N. scares me. If anything ever got bad, we could have foreigners here controlling us," said John Day painter and muralist Patricia Ross, 55.

Voters in La Terkin, Utah, next year will see a similar anti-U.N. measure on the ballot. But William Luers, a former U.S. ambassador and now president of the United Nations Association of the USA, said the anti-U.N. sentiment is absurd.

"The United Nations absolutely has no capacity, resources or forces to take over anything in the world," Luers said.

Bud Trowbridge, whose grandfather settled here in John Day in 1862, said he's ready to use force to protect his property from the United Nations.

"We're trying to avoid a fight. But we still got our guns," he said.

Some locals worry that those kinds of sentiments could hurt Grant County's image.

"Grant County has become the laughing stock of Oregon," said Tammy Bremner, who as a city official has been trying to promote tourism as a basis of economic development.

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