Who speaks for the farmers?

 

OREGON

Some farmers in the Klamath Basin are interested in selling their land to federal agencies and thereby freeing up water, not only for endangered fish, but also for their neighbors - although you wouldn't know it from listening to their elected officials.

This spring, the Klamath Water Users Association helped kill an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have freed up $125 million in federal funds to buy land in the Klamath Basin (HCN, 3/4/02: Klamath Basin II: The saga continues).

Then, in June, 50 of the basin's 1,400 farmers sent a letter to the association, stating that selling land and water easements is an important option for troubled farmers, and challenging the association to put issues to a vote before taking a public stand.

"We had no idea there was this supposed discontent in the basin," says Dan Keppen, the association's executive director. He believes some of the signatures were forged and that the American Lands Conservancy prompted the letter. "They misled folks who signed the letter, and are trying to split the community."

But Fred Fahner, a landowner who drafted the letter, says the signatures were legitimate and that the letter was an effort by frustrated landowners to find solutions to the ongoing water crisis. "We need to establish a means by which we can get a firm water supply in this basin. Right now, we're just shooting from the hip."

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