I realize that most LGM readers don’t spend a lot of time thinking about western natural resource politics. But these issues are central to understanding the politics of the West, particularly within the Republican Party. Western Republicans carry most of the greed, fear-mongering, and racism of the national Republican Party. But these Republicans also have an ideological passion for hypocrisy of decrying federal intervention while demanding massive federal intervention in natural resource policy to help conservative interests. This makes big federal projects like dams extremely important symbols in what the West has and will become. There’s a lot of dams that were built in the mid-20th century race between the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to see who could capture the most water that never made any sense. As western water supplies become more tenuous and western riparian ecosystems more stressed, a lot of these dams need to come down. After a great fight, the dams of the Elwha River in Washington were finally removed and the salmon almost immediately came back. But that success doesn’t mean that conservatives aren’t going to defend every pointless dam to the bitter end.
One of the more contentious river systems in the U.S. is the Klamath River that runs from southern Oregon into northern California. Issues of irrigation and salmon have especially been in conflict over the years, including the famed 2002 salmon dieoff on the Klamath. Over the years, through careful negiotations, the various stakeholders on the river came together and created the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement in 2010. But that’s about to expire. It needs to be renewed by the end of the year. Greg Walden, the powerful House Republican from eastern Oregon, wrote the renewal legislation. At issue is the removal of four unnecessary dams. Walden himself had said just two months ago that there was no alternative to dam removal.
But now Walden released the draft bill that not only does not remove the dams but also transfers U.S. Forest Service land to counties so that logging can increase. In other words, it’s just another Republican commitment to the federal government subsidizing western land exploitation. This may well mean the bill cannot pass, which could lead to more dead fish, more farmers losing irrigation rights during droughts like the one the region faces now, and more lawsuits. But god forbid someone touch an unnecessary dam. That would be an attack on a holy site for western Republicans.