Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

ONRC, Editorial by Mike Connelly  3/28/03 

  Like a lot of folks, I got a kick out of the letter the Oregon Natural Resources Council sent to Klamath Basin farmers, encouraging them to "take the money and run."

In the letter, the ONRC lays out an eight-page argument for why small-scale family farming is an ecologically, economically, politically, socially, and culturally irresponsible way to make oneís living in the Basin.

The heart of the letter is a proposal to transfer farmlands into federal ownership, and to replace revenues from the indigenous farm economy with what amounts to a system of state-sponsored economic servitude. In short, the ONRC argues that the basinís agricultural communities have problems because theyíre dependent on artificial government supports, and then proposes to solve the problems with wildly expensive, utterly unprecedented, and apparently endless artificial government supports.

But what interests me is not the ONRCís proposal itself, as entertaining as it is, but the way they chose to put it forth.

Although the letter is signed by ONRC Conservation Director Jay Ward, anyone whoís been around Oregon natural resource politics can see Andy Kerrís name glaring like a marquee across every paragraph, from the opening threats all the way to the divide-and-conquer conclusion. After several years watching the ONRC flounder in his absence, Andy Kerr has recently rejoined the organization he and the Spotted Owl helped build.

Andy Kerr has often been a thorn in the side of resource-dependent communities, but by familiarizing ourselves with his particular style of advocacy, we can be better prepared for what we are sure to see from the ONRC in the near future.

Nothing has had a greater influence on Andyís advocacy than a document called The Art of War, by a Chinese military strategist named Sun Tzu. It was Sun Tzu who made the claim that "All war is deception," which is telling in and of itself, considering Andyís history. Andy rereads The Art of War each and every year.

Sun Tzu, who lived around the fifth century B.C., argued that the key to gaining advantage over oneís foe lays not so much in overpowering him with brute force, but in out-maneuvering the opponent based on superior knowledge of his strengths and weaknesses.

For example, Sun Tzu suggested that, "if your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him," meaning that you can weaken your opponent by causing him to surrender his self-control to anger. I thought of Sun Tzuís recommendation when I read some of the angry letters folks sent in response to the ONRCís proposal. Mind you, I donít blame folks for being angry, but I can see Andy leaning back in his easy chair, smiling as we confirm for him the wisdom of his tactic.

Andy knows that we are, here in the basin, "of choleric temper" lately, and Andy is trying to irritate us. This is why the ONRC letter begins by writing off five generations of community history and agricultural prosperity as "a century of mismanagement," which is then followed by three pages of threats, followed by a flexing of largely nonexistent political muscle, followed by the rather startling claim that the ONRC represents the interests of farmers better than our own traditional leadership.

Unlike other recent proposals, this letter is in no way intended to propose meaningful solutions to actual problems. It is a rhetorical device designed to weaken what the ONRC sees as its opponent in a battle for control over the basinís natural resources.

This letter is designed, first and foremost, to enrage farmers, whether they are for or against a buyout. Then, once it has us all mad, it attempts to isolate us, atomizing the agricultural community, appealing to individual self-interest by offering mountains of cash that the ONRC knows full well will never, ever materialize. Then, after isolating us, the letter seeks to set us against each other, asserting some "silent majority" of basin farmers who are being exploited by a tiny minority of "agricultural elite."

Of course, there is nothing wrong with these tactics per se. In fact, they are being used as we speak, and to good effect, by our own national military in Iraq. But fortunately for us, these tactics only work on people who donít know they are, after all, just tactics. Indeed, it was Sun Tzu himself who warned that "these devices must never be divulged beforehand, or defeat is certain."

The best thing we can do on this end is laugh this one off, reminding ourselves that the ONRC has no record of accomplishment with regard to improving ecological conditions here in the Klamath Basin Ė a fact that has not gone unnoticed among significant decision makers, who are watching with the rest of us as a once-mighty organization gradually descends into irrelevance.

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