Oregon community challenges feds
Grant County outlaws the United Nations and orders unregulated timber harvest
JOHN DAY, Oregon (AP) -- 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 passed two ballot measures last month reflecting the frustration of residents who feel they no longer control their lives, livelihoods or the land.
By about a 2-to-1 margin, residents approved a measure banning the United Nations in the county and another allowing people to cut trees on federal land, regardless of whether the U.S. Forest Service approves.
"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 place where cowboy hats, hay farms and horse trailers are ubiquitous, where the high school teams are the "Prospectors," and the two radio stations play Christian or country music.
The county covers an area about the size of Connecticut. More than 60 percent of the land is managed by the federal government. The jobless rate, 13.5 percent, is the second-highest in Oregon.
Many people have seen their logging livelihoods dribble away.
Backers of the two ballot measures blame federal timber policies and environmental restrictions that they say are keeping them off public lands that had given them jobs as loggers, mill workers and ranchers.
Supporters hope to push the Forest Service into allowing more logging. They say millions of board feet of timber could be salvaged by allowing people to cut the 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 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.
It is the latest conflict to arise in the West with federal authorities.
In San Bernardino County, California, 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 line, 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 said would threaten the bull trout. The confrontation lasted months.
The second measure that passed in Grant County says 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 is 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 others in the county say they believe the allegations 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. An anti-U.N. ordinance was approved in July but repealed by a new Town Council. Organizers are hoping to revive the measure on the 2003 ballot.
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 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
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