Magazine article Insight on the News

Waste & Abuse

Magazine article Insight on the News

Waste & Abuse

Article excerpt

Shovel Protesters to Uncle Sam: Mud in Your Eye!

It is one small act of rebellion that may have large reverberations throughout the American West, where local folks and federal land and wildlife managers often come to loggerheads over the use and alleged abuse of public lands. Joined by at least 500 "sagebrush rebels" from near and far, Nevada's Jarbidge Shovel Brigade (, celebrated this Independence Day in befitting fashion -- by opening, with shovels, chains and raw muscle, a closed rural road in defiance of the U.S. Forest Service and the threats of a federal judge.

The road, washed out during a 1995 flood, has been the object of growing controversy -- first in nearby Elko, Nev., but increasingly all across the country, wherever people feel at odds with the federal government -- since it was closed by the Forest Service because of concerns about endangered bull trout in an adjacent stream (see "A Battle Brewing in the Wild West," April 17). Elko County, however, claims the road as its own and says the Forest Service has no authority to block its restoration. Two previous attempts to open the road -- one by the county and another by shovel-wielding locals -- have been blocked by government lawyers. But this time, after court-ordered mediation failed and a federal judge denied an injunction brought by the U.S. Justice Department to halt the rally, the shovel brigade celebrated the Fourth of July by rolling away the stone that had been used to blockade the road, to the chants of "Freedom, freedom!"

"I think this is a great day for local government, and it is a step in the right direction for us in the West who are tired of the government telling us what is best for us," said Shovel Brigade leader Demar Dahl. But the discontent the group has tapped is not confined to the West alone, and its message seems to find resonance wherever government's heavy hand has fallen on those who make their living on the land or water. "Their fight is my fight back there," said Scott Traudt, a commercial fisherman who came all the way from Warwick, R.I. "We've had enough. We're all getting united."

Also giving the movement a push is the 11th-hour environmental and regulatory agenda being rammed through by the Clinton administration in its waning days, largely through executive action, including the proposed closure of thousands of roads in the rural West and the locking up of huge swaths of Western land within a number of new national monuments.

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