Elected officials' public forums should be fairly evenhanded

August 17, 2013 

It's completely reasonable for rural residents and elected leaders to have concerns and questions about the proposed listing of two species of yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad under the Endangered Species Act.

But the public forum organized by U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock last week wasn't anything close to an evenhanded look at this issue. It was a stacked hearing — part of a coordinated campaign to rile up rural Californians against the federal government and environmental protections in general.

At the public forum held in Sonora, Republican representatives Devin Nunes and McClintock sat in front of a six-person panel to pick apart a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proposal would classify the amphibian species under the Endangered Species Act and would designate 1.8 million acres of primarily federal lands as "critical habitat," or land vital to the species' conservation.

Setting the tone for the meeting, Nunes decried the Endangered Species Act an "assault" on freedom and McClintock declared the evidence cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service "junk science," and endangered species listings as "destructive" to the environment.

With the exception of a single USFWS official, all the panelists — a collection of local government officials and community members — condemned the proposal, making overblown predictions about its local impacts.

Much of the opposition to amphibian protections is being whipped up by a Siskiyou County group, Defend Rural America, a hotbed of anti-government paranoia and hyperbole. The group claims on its website that the Endangered Species Act is "used to destroy more of our rights, lands, and resources that any weapons of mass destruction an external enemy could deliver." Its leader is Kirk MacKenzie, who has gone so far as to suggest that the Sacramento "Next Economy" project, organized by business and community groups, is part of some vast conspiracy to usurp the authority of rural counties.

We don't have a problem with elected leaders having points of view. But they also have a responsibility to see that accurate information is presented when they sponsor forums such as last week's in Sonora, and that people with differing points of view are allowed and encouraged to speak.

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