Sheriffs state their case here

Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

They say law grants wider local control

Suspicion of big government is no stranger to American political discourse. Recently this theme has manifested in the speech and actions of county sheriffs from Northern California and Southern Oregon, dubbed the "constitutional sheriffs," who have assumed a broader view of their responsibilities as elected officials.

The sheriffs, Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson included, have made a name for themselves with town hall-style gatherings where their views are publically shared. The fifth and most recent one took place at the Del Norte County fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon with six sheriffs and about 250 concerned or curious citizens in attendance.

As elected officials, the constitutional sheriffs see a

responsibility to take a proactive role in dealing with state and

federal agencies, to ensure the health and public safety of their


Certain issues surface at each event, including opposition to the

agreements that would remove four dams on the Klamath River, opposition

to U.S. Forest Service travel management plans that would limit access

on some roads in national forests and an overall distaste for the role

environmental regulations and agencies have played in limiting the

economic health of rural communities.

National media outlets like the Huffington Post have recently

dismissed the sheriffs as rabble-rousers that come close to overstepping

their boundaries.

"You're nothing until you get an attack from the Huffington Post I

guess," Wilson said.

Considering the group confrontational is hard to avoid with

oft-quoted lines like that of the unofficial leader, Siskiyou County

Sheriff Jon Lopey:

"As a sheriff we are all sworn to uphold the Constitution of the

United States and the California state constitution against all enemies

foreign and domestic ... unfortunately, recently there have been more

domestic enemies than foreign."

Off the bat, Lopey assured the audience that the sheriffs are "not

anti-government," "not extremists," "not militia leaders" and "not

advocates of extremist ideas, violence or lawlessness."

For the most part, they say they want "coordination," a reference to a

clause in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 that

gives local governments a little more clout when dealing with federal

and state government agencies. Just how much is open to debate.

The act says that when the federal agencies are developing land-use

plans for public lands, they must "assure that consideration is given"

to local plans. They must also "assist in resolving, to the extent

pracandshy;tical, inconsistencies between Federal and non-Federal Government

plans, and shall provide for meaningful public involvement of State and

local government officials."

It's not exactly concrete language with subjective phrasing like "to

the extent practical" and "meaningful," but the constitutional sheriffs

have seized on the idea of "coordination."

"If we want timber management and we want to still harvest timber in

the county, that is a conflict and that conflict has to be resolved,"

Wilson said, as an example of how coordination should be used with the

U.S. Forest Service.

Del Norte County government officials complained about being lumped

in with the public comment period when the Six Rivers National Forest

was pursuing a travel management plan to limit access on roads in the

National Forest.

The "coordination" clause, the sheriffs and others contend, will

force federal agencies to work with local governments prior to the

public scoping period, instead of just being on the receiving end of

decisions affecting lands within county boundaries.

"It's a pretty good trump card in bringing people to the table,"

Wilson said to the Saturday crowd.

Wilson pointed to budget problems in Josephine County and the

resulting downsize of county law enforcement as an omen for what was to

come locally - unless counties fight back.

Recently adopted marine protected areas (reserves where fishing is

limited or banned) "will shut down our fishing industry," Wilson said.

The Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho Recovery Plan was

highlighted as another big concern, because of its potential to impact

farmers and ranchers along the Smith River.

"That will turn the salmon into the new spotted owl for Del Norte

County," Wilson said.

A pro-active stance in the wake of such possibilities is necessary

"to preserve our way of life in Northern California," Wilson said, and

that's why the constitutional sheriffs do what they do.

That's why Dean Wilson has been reading up on coordination and the

"constitution," to the point where he'll joke that "my eyes have grown

weak in the service of my county."

Rural counties are "literally under siege," Lopey said.

"Environmental extremism and dumb decisions have elevated the interests

of fish, trees, birds and frogs above the interests of hard-working


In order to avoid the imminent destruction of rural America's way of

life, Wilson urged people to teach their families about the Constitution

and "teach them about our history so they know that free housing, free

health care, free, free, free is not freedom," he said. "Freedom is only

given to you by one thing: by God and by birth and not by government or

a king."

Reach Adam Spencer at

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