KIRKBRIDE: Forum for Sierra frog protections lacked balance

columns@modbee.comAugust 9, 2013 

— On Tuesday, the place to be for acrimonious emotions was the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, where two congressmen, guest speakers and an overmatched official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought to "enlighten" an energized audience of perhaps 400 people in a hall.

I attended as a novice to the controversial proposal and expected to hear a balanced discussion.

Hosted by Rep. Tom McClintock of Congressional District 4 and joined by Rep. Devin Nunes of the 22nd District, the forum as announced was to hear from Alexandra Pitts, deputy regional director in Sacramento for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in an opening statement of the agency's proposal to designate nearly 2 million acres in the Sierra as critical habitat for endangered specific frogs and toads.

Poor Pitts. She may be a qualified botanist, but she was unprepared for the prejudiced crowd's mood of, in most minds, another government takeover of rights of frogs (spotted owls, old growth forests, etc.,) over people's rights. She was at the mercy of her host, McClintock, who reminded the audience to be respectful as she was just the messenger from the government.

The audience was largely made up of people whose livelihoods depend upon using the resources of the national forests, be it cattle grazing, timber harvesting or recreational activities like off-road vehicles, mining and tourism. The collective fear was that economic doom would follow if the proposal was adopted, and they cheered the selected speakers who opposed the measure.

The so-called forum under McClintock and Nunes lacked any balance of support for the proposal from groups or individuals that supported the study, aside from the Fish and Wildlife people. They were not invited to present other viewpoints or facts in the meeting. There are more "moderate" Republicans in Congress than there were voices eager to challenge the one-sided forum.

McClintock's use of phrases such as "environmental leftists," posing a question, "Does the Fish and Wildlife 'give a damn?', and Nunes stating this is an "assault on our liberty" and asking, "Will you stand and fight?" was music to the ears for the majority of people in attendance.

People may have left their pitchforks and torches, tar and feathers, but they brought plenty of heat, if not more light to the meeting. The speakers and some audience members did have some valid questions, and points that need to be addressed with more answers and public discussion.

There were many claims made from the hand-picked speakers, not all of which can be substantiated as many of those views were emotional responses and probably loose on facts.

Those in the audience who raised their hands to speak or ask questions, were for the most part, expressing their personal feelings about the freedoms they feel are being taken from them by a bureaucratic government.

They do have legitimate concerns about jobs and the economic health of their towns and deserve to know more details of how, if any, this proposal will impact their lives.

As far as McClintock's and Nunes' political futures, I would say they have a very good chance at re-election based on how they played to their audience's core beliefs.

Kirkbride lives in Twain Harte and writes about Mother Lode and Sierra matters. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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