Smokey's New Motto:
Do as I Say, Not as I Do

By Dan Steninger

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a discrepancy between the way the U.S. Forest Service behaves and the way it dictates others behavior?

For instance, the Forest Service proclaims that its mission is to protect the environment. Along those lines, it establishes regulations for the grazing of cattle on public lands that include guidelines for making sure cattle don’t congregate in one spot for too long.

But when a rancher in Elko County’s Ruby Valley suggested a new water trough to help disperse his herd, the Forest Service refused his request. When the rancher did the work on his own, he was hauled into federal court for "destroying a spring," when in fact what he had done was to develop a bog into a spring. To "rehabilitate" the newly developed water source, the Forest Service suggested dumping enough dirt on the developed spring to ensure no water would reach the surface.

And now we learn from our grand jury that some time before the Forest Service brought that rancher, Don Duval, up on charges of destroying a spring, the Forest Service itself used heavy construction equipment to seal off a spring only a few miles away from Duval’s.

No charges have been brought against the Forest Service for that environmental damage, because the Forest Service has decided it doesn’t have to subject itself to the inquiries of the local court system. The Forest Service hasn’t denied responsibility, it is just refusing to tell county authorities who was driving the Cat.

Which brings up another discrepancy: The Forest Service doesn’t have to provide any information whatsoever to the local courts; but it then apparently has the power to demand any information it desires from Nevada citizens.

We’re thinking of Woodie Bell here, who inherited an old mine up in the mountains west of Elko. The mine has been worked on and off over the years by lessees, the last of which left a couple of barrels of chemicals in a shack.

The shack weathered down over time and some cows made their way to the barrels and were killed by drinking the contents.

Now, considering the Forest Service thinks the best way to rehabilitate a spring is to dump a foot of dirt over it, the agency’s solution to a couple barrels of cyanide shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Federal bureaucrats aren’t hired for their common sense, after all. Without getting into all the details, the agency swooped in and spent $1 million on site work. Originally, the feds thought they could get by with only a $60,000 project, but then they realized they could spend a lot more if they were to claim the mountaintop was in a flood plain.

But spending the money is only half the fun. Now the bureaucrats are countering their boredom by "finding a responsible party." If that has a familiar ring to readers, they’re probably confusing it with O.J.’s "looking for the real killers."

And how do they determine who is responsible? Why, the same way plaintiff’s lawyers determine responsibility: by looking at financial statements. Bell has been ordered to turn over 19 years of financial records. (Subsequently reduced to five-year’s worth in one of the agencies notorious "compromises.") How this financial fishing trip will determine whether or not Bell is responsible for two cows drinking cyanide and the resultant million-dollar remodel of the mountainside by the Forest Service escapes me. But, then, I’m not exempt from the judicial system, either.

Perhaps if I were above the law, too, I would be able to understand such things. Not that it would do my readers any good. Once I were to achieve that high status, I wouldn’t be talking to commoners, either. Unless I deemed it to be in my best interests, of course.u

Dan Steninger is editorial page editor at the Elko Daily Free Press.

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