JARBIDGE, Nev. - Is this is the way a Sagebrush Rebellion ends: not with a revolution, but with one more barbecue to clean up?
The latest skirmish began with great
promise, at least according to organizers. More than a thousand
people were supposed to show up with picks and shovels to open a
washed-out Forest Service road to the Jarbidge Wilderness, in the
northernmost reaches of Nevada near the Idaho border.
The protest was supposed to prove that the
Western rebellion against the federal government was alive and well
at the end of the century.
Instead, it ended with
recriminations, empty boasts, and a few diehards throwing rocks
into the Jarbidge River in a vain gesture of
For weeks, local anti-government
activists in Elko County had been raising expectations for their
Oct. 9 work party to open a dirt road washed away in a flood on the
Jarbidge River four years ago. County officials said the road was
needed for campground access and firefighting, and last year a
county road crew had unsuccessfully tried to reopen the road with a
bulldozer (HCN, 9/14/98).
The county was ready
for a second try, and Forest Service employees were warned by local
law enforcement officials to stay away from this former mining town
for fear of violence. One organizer told people to "remember Waco."
But the Forest Service wanted to keep the road
closed to protect the threatened bull trout, also known as the
dolly varden, that lives in the Jarbidge River. The Friday before
the party was to begin, organizers were informed that a federal
district court judge had issued a temporary restraining order
prohibiting anyone from working in the river where bull trout were
spawning. Anyone caught harming a fish or its habitat could be held
in contempt of court and face criminal
That night, one man shuffled through the
Outdoor Inn, one of two bars in the town of Jarbidge, which has
fewer than 30 year-round residents. "Did that stop Martin Luther
King?" he demanded loudly. "Did that stop the hippies from
marching? They can take that injunction and shove it! But our
leaders are afraid of losing their jobs!'
handful of other patrons regarded him with sympathetic forbearance
but said nothing to encourage
The next morning, John Carpenter, a
Republican assemblyman who represents Elko County in the Nevada
Legislature and was the main organizer of the protest, said the
court order caught him by surprise. "It's typical of the
inconsideration of the federal government," he complained. "They
wait until the last minute. We feel double-crossed."
"I don't mind going to jail," Carpenter claimed.
"But I'm a law-abiding citizen and if the judge says you shouldn't
do it ..." He shrugged. "We'll probably lose," he predicted
bitterly about the hearing Judge David Hagen ordered him and the
other organizers to attend later this
Carpenter was staying at the Tsawhawbitts
Ranch Bed and Breakfast Inn, where owner Krinn McCoy was curling
Helen Wilson's hair for the barbecue local residents had planned
for people who came to work on the road. At 89, Wilson is
Jarbidge's oldest resident. She has lived in town since she was a
few weeks old, although she spends winters in San Diego
"That road was built by people, not by the
Forest Service," Wilson protested. "Ah, pooh!" she said about the
judge's restraining order to protect the bull trout. "I've caught
lots of those dolly vardens. What do they worry about them for?
They're ugly. They're soft. They're not good eating."
But Wilson was quick to say, "I don't want
violence," when McCoy asked whether she wanted to see a
McCoy agreed. Most of her patrons
are hikers visiting the wilderness area, she said, but business has
been down since the road washed out.
they ought to put it back," she said. "It really limits access to
the canyon. But there's got to be another way, if everyone could
leave their grudges and quit fighting. It has strictly become
The hat and
In the end, fewer than 50 people
drove up the canyon to the site of the protest, where the road ends
at a national forest campground. The road used to continue another
mile and a half up the narrow canyon through groves of quaking
aspen and pine trees beside the Jarbidge River. Now, the river runs
back and forth across the canyon and has chewed up stretches of the
"We'll have a hard time getting
hundreds of people up here again," said Grant Gerber, an Elko
attorney and one of the main organizers of the
"I can get as many people as you want
here," boasted Dick Carver, a commissioner from Nye County, who
drove a bulldozer past a Forest Service roadblock in 1994 and won a
place on the cover of Time magazine.
everyone was back in town for the barbecue put on by local
residents for visiting supporters.
the mayor of West Wendover, a town on the Utah border, said he came
to show his support for the people of Jarbidge. But he looked
slightly confused and bemused by the whole affair.
"This won't help anybody," he said of the kind
of protest that had been planned. "It'll just get people in
People in Wendover and other towns
throughout Nevada are concerned about access to surrounding federal
land. But Sanders said he is trying to work with the federal
agencies rather than fight them. "I've always been a firm believer
in the art of negotiation. You get a lot further if you come with
your hat in your hand rather than a pitchfork."
After the barbecue, Carpenter and Gerber and the
other organizers were nowhere to be seen. And local residents were
left to clean up. The only rebel in evidence was Carver, standing
by the back of a pickup with a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his
shirt pocket, hawking copies of a book about his road opening
forays and criticizing his Elko
"They quit," he said. "When the
Forest Service cop stood up in front of me, we kept going."
Carver claimed he could easily put the road back
in Jarbidge Canyon in two hours with a bulldozer. But this time, he
had no takers.
writes about the Great Basin from Carson City,
You can contact
* Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Elko
* Matt Holford, Trout
Unlimited, Nevada Chairman, Elko, 775-778-3159;
John Carpenter, Nevada Assemblyman, Elko,
* Elko County Commission,