OKANOGAN Virtually every land owner and local water rights holder along Johnson Creek turned out Monday afternoon to call on Okanogan County Commissioners to halt a project to create salmon and steelhead habitat.
They submitted numerous petitions unanimously opposing a proposal from Bonneville Power Administration that would see the utility buy land and build habitat, and then give it to the Colville Confederated Tribes.
Commissioners Jim DeTro, Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy said they heard Johnson Creek residents and ranchers loud and clear.
“Whatever we can do, we just have to do it,” Campbell said before a crowd of more than 40 people.
The presentation from landowners and ranchers was led by residents Jim Bartleson and Rod Haeberle, who laid out a timeline on what they called extensive federal overreach in a massive attempt to grab land and water rights from most of the western U.S.
“This is only a small fraction of what’s going on,” Bartleson said of the Johnson Creek proposal that would see development of fish habitat in a creek bed that historically has never supported either salmon or steelhead populations. “It’s time to do something.”
Haeberle, whose ranch spans a wide swath of the creek’s drainage basin near Conconully, said he is worried creation of habitat where none currently exists will lead to extensive regulation of ranches and other agricultural operations adjacent to the creek.
He pointed to problems in Oregon and California where fish projects have resulted in state and federal agencies stripping water rights and drying up agricultural operations.
“In Okanogan County, we have the stars aligned for a similar event,” he said, asking the county government and Sheriff’s Office to “halt this project.”
Resident Nicole Kuchenbuch said once Bonneville gives the land to the tribe, the Colvilles could take it permanently off the tax rolls and reduce county government revenue sources.
“The tribe doesn’t make payment in lieu of taxes payments,” she said, noting that at least state agencies pay something, albeit substantially less than tax revenues that would be generated by private ownership and commercial operations.
“We’ve stood up and said no,” Commissioner Campbell added.
Haeberle and Bartleson noted the Johnson Creek proposal is a drop in the bucket of what’s happening across the nation, and potentially the world, under the United Nations so-called Agenda 21 sustainable living plan.
Under Agenda 21, humans generally would be restricted to living in small areas and prohibited from encroaching on wildlife. The proposal would eliminate private ownership of land in the Okanogan as well as much of the rural West.
Commissioner DeTro said local officials are well aware of Agenda 21 and is working with Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties as the Quad County Commission to oppose any further erosion of private property rights and ownership.
The four counties have already joined the American Lands Council, which is advocating for the federal government to return control of all western lands that were held in trust for the states in accordance with statehood compacts.
DeTro said commissioners are also discussing a state of emergency declaration, which would give local governments the authority to manage all public lands in the county, including those currently managed by Bonneville and other federal agencies.
Resident Stan Stout said he was behind the effort.
“It’s time we stand up for our rights,” he said.