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Hundreds Gather in Yakima to Tell Off NMFS

by Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, January 27, 2000

YAKIMA - Appealing to the Declaration of Independence and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, 450 people, largely Eastern Washington farmers and real estate agents, told the federal fish service to shove it.

The rowdy crowd - riled by the ire of Portland attorney James Buchal at a protest rally beforehand - used the National Marine Fisheries Service's public hearing here Wednesday night to sound off about dozens of perceived wrongs by the federal government.

"We don't have a salmon problem, we don't have a water problem. We have a government problem," said Tom Flint, an Ephrata farmer.

"We ought to think about cutting all the funding to NMFS," agreed John Smets of Portland. "They don't seem to understand, but what's worse is that they don't seem to give a damn."

One thing remained constant through the rhetoric, protests, catcalls and boos: Residents want answers. They want to know how many fish are enough, why ocean and river harvests continue if fish are so bad off and why their water rights seem to be under constant attack.

"The Constitution tells us (NMFS) doesn't belong here," said Robert Lonn, a county government consultant in Davenport. "This is our land, and this is our water."

The hearing is one of several public forums this winter on proposed federal rules for the protection of several Northwest salmon and steelhead stocks.

Very few attending seemed impressed with NMFS's work. "I see no scientific basis to back these assumptions up," said Jess Page of Yakima. "You better do your job and put a little research into it before you come over here and try to change anything."

When NMFS unveiled its rules proposal in December, regional administrator Will Stelle billed it as a new era of federal cooperation with local and state governments. NMFS is asking those agencies to help set guidelines for fish - and several are well on their way to getting federal blessings for everything from forestry to road maintenance.

A handful of timber representatives spoke Wednesday night in favor of the so-called "Four D" rule, saying it achieved a balance between human and environmental needs. Mac Porter of Yakima, for instance, touted the achievements of Washington's forest and fish legislation, saying it gives landowners assurances against more federal interference.

"I am a strong advocate of state-based solutions," he said.

Rob Jones, NMFS spokesman, said some of the reactions against the Four D rule are based on misinformation such as the notion that NMFS is going to require 200-foot setbacks on every stream. And he pointed to the plight of Northwest salmon, which triggered the Endangered Species Act. "They are in such bad shape that we have to take into account how much ... harm is out there ... and come up with ways to address it."

NMFS's attempts, however, were met by years of pent-up frustration in Eastern Washington. From Methow to Whitstran to Ellensburg, many rural residents feel unfairly targeted by federal regulators and fear their land and livelihoods are at stake.

That's why a few hundred of them showed up two hours early at the Yakima convention center for a sign-waving, epithet-shouting parking lot rally.

"If their rules are adopted as written, I am afraid the concept of private property is a thing of the past here in the Northwest," said Steve Appel, Washington Farm Bureau president. "If the process works, NMFS will go back to the drawing board."

Buchal exhorted the crowd to vigorously oppose the "imperial salmon empire." Others likened NMFS to the oppressive English government in colonial times.

"This is the beginning of tyranny," Buchal said. "Go in there and clog the process. ... When they evade your questions and when they tell you lies, don't just take it like sheep. Do you have the courage to disobey those who would make you act like sheep?"

Mike Lee
Hundreds Gather in Yakima to Tell Off NMFS
Tri-City Herald, January 27, 2000

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