Do the rebels have a cause?
We assume that Gloria Flora had some inkling of the anti-federal sentiment in Nevada before she took the job as supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
After all, the state is home to the Sagebrush Rebellion. The roots of its disagreements with the federal government pre-date its admittance to the Union. And Nevada has been a hotbed of lawsuits and protests and disputes for the past two decades.
So when Flora announced this week she is resigning her post and cited an atmosphere of “hostility and distrust” toward federal employees, we can only think that she underestimated just how deeply the acrimony runs.
The latest example, of course, is the Jarbidge Revolt over a road in the woods and its effect on a bull-trout stream. Elko County rebels pushed the issue, and a federal judge persuaded them to back off. Flora apparently expected to be flayed at an upcoming hearing on the dispute orchestrated by U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, whose husband, Wayne Hage, literally wrote the book on private rights on public lands.
“Fed-bashing is a sport here and I refuse to sit by and let it happen as many others are doing,” Flora said in announcing her resignation.
Yes, fed-bashing is a sport in some Nevada circles. It has sometimes taken ugly, dangerous turns, which is despicable. But there is nothing wrong with passionate debate – and peaceful, resolute protest – over the policies of federal bureaucrats who control 87 percent of the land in the state.
It’s going to look to some as if Flora is running away from a fight. It’s going to look to others as if the Sagebrush Rebellion has won a skirmish. They might be right.
But they should be reminded of a couple of things:
– There are more Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service employees living and working in Nevada – most of them with their own strong passions about the land – than there are farmers and ranchers.
– Ninety percent of Nevada residents live in urban environments – Las Vegas and Reno, obviously, but also towns from Carson City to Ely, Winnemuca to Mesquite.
Urban residents may agree in principle with the tenets of the Sagebrush Rebellion – local control over public lands – but they also may have a few strong disagreements with the details, such as Hage’s assertion that ranchers should be given property rights to the public lands on which they have been grazing their herds for years.
Those details are important because, in Nevada’s long history of disputes with the federal government, the argument often has boiled down to exactly who will profit from federal largess – whether it be the railroad barons, the massive water projects or the federal highway system, all of which made Nevada what it is today.
Fed-bashing may be a sport, but angling for federal money is an art. Neither is particularly entertaining – or meaningful – without a worthy adversary.