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
"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
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
Reach Adam Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org