CONSERVATION REPORT, July 94 Storm Petrel1

Wise–use tries to promote Catron County New Mexico–style "Custom and Culture" ordinances locally.

"Customs and Culture" Ordinances Coming to Curry County?2

Curry County appears to have become the organizing target of a particularly virulent form of anti–environmentalism called the "wise use" movement – specifically a segment of this movement that is heavily financed and controlled by mining interests from New Mexico and Arizona. Kalmiopsis Audubon Society has obtained documents describing the details of this campaign as well as other material describing the funding and background of the organizers of the campaign. Locally, the public platform for this organizing effort is called the Oregon Plan for Public Land. You may have seen notices appearing on post office bulletin boards and in other public places that refer to this.

Based on the history of their campaigns in other counties, this organizing will attempt to have our county pass an ordinance (often referred to as the Catron County ordinance), which originated in New Mexico. This ordinance would attempt to make it difficult to enforce state and federal environmental laws within Curry County.

A key organizing tactic of wise use organizers is to persuade citizens that they can stop or impede the enforcement of environmental laws by the passage of what are called "customs and culture" ordinances. These ordinances purport to assert the jurisdiction of counties over the state or federal government on a wide range of land related matters. The draft ordinance, which we expect will soon be presented formally to our County Commissioners, would attempt to give Curry County authority to regulate mining within Wild and Scenic river corridors, enforce wildlife laws, protect fish runs, and in general assert County authority over land use laws on State and Federal land within County borders. Taken literally, the Catron County ordinance would give jurisdiction over all levels of government to our local Sheriff Chuck Denny! Under this ordinance Sheriff Denny would be required to arrest Forest Service and BLM staff and cite them for a fine of $1000 if they enforced any federal laws on Federal lands without our County Commissioner's permission.

These ordinances have been routinely ruled illegal when challenged. So why would anyone go to so much trouble and expense to pass one? There are several reasons why mining companies would want to organize in Curry County and why unwitting people within our County would volunteer to further their schemes.

  1. The Forest Service and BLM are trying to bar powerful suction dredges (claimed to be merely recreational) on some sections of local rivers within their jurisdiction. The ordinance would attempt to give Curry County the right to regulate Wild and Scenic rivers, presumably the County would be much more sympathetic to calls of distress from allegedly harassed and put upon miners. Once the ordinance passed a miner might think the Forest Service lacked jurisdiction over his claim even though it was on Federal land.
  2. While local mining conflicts might explain why local people would want to pass such an ordinance, they do not explain why mining companies would want our County to pass a "custom and culture" ordinance. After all, we don't have any large–scale mining around here. The reason international mining companies want us to pass this ordinance is found hidden in the 20 plus pages of the ordinance's fine print. Included are provisions that declare the County's endorsement and support of the 1872 Mining Act. This Act, which governs mining on Federal lands in the US, is up for rewriting by Congress next year, and several of its current provisions are certain to be attacked as outmoded and environmentally damaging. Being able to show that dozens of rural counties support this outmoded law is a good argument for mining companies to use when they are challenged to defend this antiquated Act's destructive impact.

    And it will be hard for them to argue that the 1872 mining law should be retained. The current (1872) law allows the digging of 1 square mile holes in the ground from which millions of tons of rock and dirt are removed to extract microscopic amounts of gold in a destructive gold mining process called cyanide heap leach mining. This process creates huge cyanide ponds that look like pools of ordinary water to birds that land in them and die by the thousands. The leakage and overflow from these ponds poisons wildlife, not to say what these enormous pits do to aquifers when the pits cut through ground water tables and fill with a toxic soup, or when the liners for cyanide holding ponds develop leaks. Mining companies will do almost anything to show that rural people across the West (including those in Curry County if this ordinance passes) are 100% behind the outmoded law that allow them to get away with their depredations.
  3. The 1872 mining act also allows companies from outside the United States to acquire vast tracts of land for $2.50 an acre and exempts them from paying any severance taxes on the gold that is removed. Recently a Canadian company acquired the rights to take 30 billion dollars in gold from our public lands for which they paid almost nothing. The fine print in the proposed ordinance would place Curry County on record as fully supporting these ripoffs.

    When enough rural counties have passed versions of this ordinance mining companies will have a seemingly persuasive argument to use against necessary changes in the mining laws. This may seem like an awfully expensive and roundabout way to make arguments for a future legislative battle, but mining companies make billions from digging up public land and can afford to spend a few million dollars on organizing efforts like this.

Even if a "custom and culture" ordinance does not pass in Curry County, the wise use monitors in the environmental movement have emphasized that a goal of these campaigns is to churn up a series of meetings, hearings, letters–to–the editor and advisory boards that create platforms for extreme anti–environmental agitation and identify supporters of their cause. In Canada, and in New Mexico and Utah these campaigns have served to inflame passions to the point of violence. The Oregon Plan for Public Land's organizing campaign is cleverly designed to strengthen the extreme far right wing in our community, whether they win passage of an ordinance or not.

While new to Southwest Oregon there is a long history behind these ordinances and the wise use people who promote them. For example, the wise use has put enough pressure on the sponsors of National Audubon television specials that we lost several long time corporate sponsors for these programs. Ron Arnold, the leader of this movement has been quoted in the Oregonian as saying:

"Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement...We're mad as hell...were going to destroy them."

Finally, and most bizarre of all, much of the money and organizing behind the wise use movement can be traced to Reverend Moon and the "Moonies". For documentation of this, an 80-page report from the Library of Congress of Canada outlining the ties of the wise use movement to mining companies and Reverend Moon is available for the cost of reproduction ($5.00) from Kalmiopsis Audubon Society. Wise use organizing in Canada has disturbed the Canadian government because there has been more violence involved than in the US. Also, Canada is having serious problems with Province-Federal relationships so a campaign organized by Americans to attack the power of the federal government to regulate environmental issues is viewed with alarm by some Canadian Members of Parliament, particularly since they believe that money from Japan and Korea is finding its way into the Canadian and American wise use movement.

Since ordinances are a key organizing tool for the radical wise use movement, it is important that the residents and elected officials of Curry County are fully aware of what they are doing if they lend their support to the passage of a "custom and culture" ordinance. It would be sad if right wing extremists use the legitimate concerns of some citizens about the enforcement of environmental laws to further the agendas of certain large corporations. There is a potential for the County to look foolish across the entire State if this matter is not handled properly. Hopefully, responsible moderate and conservative folks in the county will not support this misguided campaign.

While there has always been a tension between the environmentalists and logging interests in Curry County, for the most part our local debate has been conducted within fairly civil bounds. This has not always been the case in other states and in Canada. I hope that our county can continue its long standing tradition of tolerance and independence and not allow itself to be used by forces outside the state, and indeed outside the country. [Ed. Campaign fizzled out and was later abandoned as the County Commissioners and Sheriff refused to participate or cooperate with them. A case study about how to conduct a successful anti-wise or ATV campaign is the Plover Campaign.]

  1. Kalmiopsis Audubon Society - Storm Petrel Newsletter
  2. article about rural politics, politicians and campaigns

[Note: an article about rural politics, politicians and campaigns.]

#66, (v 1.3) 3/14/11

©1994 Jim Britell
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