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Know the West

Extremism is on the rise in Whatcom County, Washington

  Dear HCN,

I am writing to clarify some statements in the article from your 9/15/94 edition re "Rural residents defy Washington law." I am a Whatcom County resident, a former candidate for public office (County Council, 1993), and the current co-president of the Washington Environmental Council.

As a co-founder of Whatcom Watch, a citizens' networking newspaper, I can state that it tracks both the regulators and the local manifestations of the wise-use movement. We may be a "rebel" publication in that we allow citizen activists to write about their issues in their own words, but the activists are generally environmentally-concerned and pro-growth management. The fact that property rights organizer Skip Richards reads our newsletter is no surprise, since he or the situations he helps orchestrate are not infrequently the subject of our contributors' essays.

Another correction: Our Critical Areas Ordinance was not to protect wetlands and watersheds from development per se, but to ensure that development on property containing such features was sensitive to the special needs of those critical areas (e.g. aquifer recharge zones, geologically hazardous areas, riparian areas, etc.). Sensitive area setbacks might mean relocation or conditioning of some building plans, but outright denial of rights to use one's property (i.e. legitimate takings) have not occurred.

Implementation of state law has divided Whatcom County into two camps, indeed, but it is too simplistic to refer to them as urban and rural. A designation of stewardship ethic vs. greed and exploitation is more accurate, at least at the level of the leadership of both movements. Urban and rural residents mingle in both categories.

It is unfortunate that many rural residents have been used as pawns, subjected to misinformation and polarizing rhetoric by a certain extremist segment of the development community (yesterday's "good old boys' reborn as so-called champions of the underdog). It is less than coincidental that that has occurred in the wake of visits by wise-use organizer Chuck Cushman to Whatcom County.

A 20/20 T.V. report that featured an interview with Chuck Cushman showed Skip Richards in the background. Skip's group CLUE (the Coalition for Land Use Education) often provides Cushman's materials at meetings.

Thanks to a climate of hatred created in Whatcom County, elements of our society who indulge in cross-burning have just revived that little pastime. In addition, my campaign for public office last year included receiving telephoned death threats, clandestine perusal (theft?) of my mail, my car's headlights kicked in at a candidates' forum, and a campaign worker narrowly missing being hit by a car that had to leave the roadway to aim for her.

I have to wonder at the value system of people who would set about unravelling community cohesiveness, sacrificing decency and civility in the process, and all as the price for claiming irresponsible land use as their divine right.

I agree with any number of cutting-edge analysts and economists who say that the time has arrived for "full cost accounting." Only by attempting to tally the dollar-and-cents reality of what we are repeatedly destroying, it seems, will we ever convince a certain segment of our society that these irreplaceable natural systems have genuine value.

Thank you for the excellent work you do covering the West! I plan to be a subscriber for many years to come.

Sherilyn Wells

Bellingham, Washington