Zach Ruffert on trumpet.
Zach Ruffert on trumpet.
Zach Ruffert on trumpet.
Here’s a report from The Aspen Times (Scott Condon). Click through and read the whole thing and to check out the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:
Working the Aspen farmers’ market booth last summer for Rock Bottom Ranch, agriculture manager Alyssa Barsanti was chatting with a customer who couldn’t believe she was one of the farmers responsible for growing the vegetables he was about to buy.
“He asked to see my hands,” Barsanti recently recalled with a snicker.
She’s used to the doubters, most of them Doubting Thomases. But make no doubt about it, the resurgence of small farms in the Roaring Fork Valley is coming largely on the backs and biceps of women.
Rock Bottom Ranch in the Emma area has an all-female team of six working its fields and livestock pastures this year.
Two Roots Farm co-owner Harper Kaufman hired two women to prepare soil, plant seeds and young plants, weed and harvest land leased from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails near the Emma schoolhouse.
Entrepreneurs such as Vanessa Harmony are finding ways to cultivate their passion for a niche in agriculture into a business. Harmony hopes to turn a sidelight venture selling fruit trees and eligible perennials into a full-time job.
“Just the idea that women can farm is new to our psyche in America even though women have been farming forever,” Kaufman said…
The Edwards native got interested in farming while attending the University of Montana.
“After college I really wanted to go somewhere where I could get my hands dirty,” she said.
She also believed in agriculture’s ability to ease climate change through practices such as carbon sequestration rather than contributing so much to carbon emissions.
After first working at a farm in Northern California, she landed at Rock Bottom Ranch where she served for two years as agriculture manager. That solidified her desire to get into farming on her own. She and Christian LaBar, her life and business partner, started Two Roots Farm. They rented land for two years in Missouri Heights, then earned a 10-year lease from Pitkin County at the fertile Emma property last year. They grow vegetables on 3 of the 22 acres they lease and have expansion plans in mind.
Kaufman, 27, said she loves their decision despite “hard work, low pay and risky business.”
“My understanding of farming has definitely evolved,” she said. “I came into it with a lot of naivety.”
In the Roaring Fork Valley and an increasing number of areas around the country, farming isn’t economically viable because of high land costs. Initiatives such as Pitkin County Open Space’s purchase of land to preserve agriculture will be vital for the future of farming, she said.
“It’s such small margins and such hard work,” Kaufman said. Any number of factors — drought, hail, pests — can “really cripple a farm.”
Nevertheless, she’s encouraged that farming is attracting a lot of young, passionate newcomers and that many of them are women. She estimated that 80 percent of applicants for job openings at Two Roots are women. She senses greater interest among women in connecting to food and learning where it’s coming from.
“Even at the farmers’ market, we tend to sell to women,” she said…
Like Rock Bottom Ranch, Kaufman is working to encourage people to get into farming. She founded the collaborative Roaring Fork Farmers & Ranchers five years ago as a resource for people to share ideas and resources.
“Farming is hard enough,” she said. “We don’t need to be competing and keeping secrets.”
Kaufman said the number of farming-related, start-up businesses that have sprouted in the Roaring Fork Valley in recent years has encouraged her. Women head many of them.
From the High Country News (Anna V. Smith):
For the first time, the largest tribe in California has one of its own to lead its legal battles.
On a warm September Saturday in 2002, Amy Cordalis stood in a Yurok Tribal Fisheries Department boat on the Klamath River, in response to reports from fishermen that something was amiss on the river. On this stretch of the Yurok Reservation, the river was wide and deep, having wound its way from its headwaters at the Upper Klamath Lake, through arid south-central Oregon to the California coast. Cordalis, then 22, was a summer fish technician intern, whose job was to record the tribe’s daily catch. A college student in Oregon, she’d found a way to spend time with her family and be on the river she’d grown up with — its forested banks and family fishing hole drawing her back year after year.
But that morning, something was wrong. Cordalis watched as adult salmon, one after the other, jumped out of the water, mouths gaping, before plunging back into the river. Her father, Bill Bowers, who was gillnetting farther downriver, looked up to see a raft of salmon corpses floating around the bend. The carcasses piled up on the banks and floated in eddies, as seagulls swept inland to pick at the remains.
Remnants of the fish kill lingered for weeks, as Cordalis and fishermen up and down the river looked on in shock. By the end of it, California and the Hoopa Valley, Karuk and Yurok tribes made a conservative estimate of the toll — 34,000 dead salmon along the Klamath — though officials said the sheer volume made a true count difficult. It was the largest fish kill in both Yurok and U.S. history, and its cause was no mystery. Earlier that year, the federal government had capitulated to public pressure from farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin and diverted water from the river to irrigate fields. The resulting low flows created a marine environment where fatal diseases could fester.
The Klamath water crisis and ensuing fish kill marked a pivotal moment for the Yurok Tribe. It shaped a generation of people, many of whom feel a fierce responsibility for a river that not only carries fish and water, but centuries of stories and struggle as well. As Amy Cordalis watched the salmon die, she told herself she would find a way to prevent similar tragedies. Today, she is the Yurok Tribe’s general counsel — meaning that, for the first time, the tribe has one of its own to lead its battles in court.
Since the fish kill, legal fights over the Klamath have rarely abated. As time goes on, though, the stakes increase, as salmon populations steadily drop, stream flows dwindle and disease blights the water. This year, snowpack was a paltry 46 percent of normal in the Klamath Basin by March, and Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, D, declared another drought in Klamath County. “Tensions are rising, people are looking for any source of water they can possibly use to get their crops wet,” Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, told me. “It is an operational nightmare.”
While the Yurok Tribe, the largest in California, has secured a number of legal wins for water and salmon, Cordalis told me recently that two main issues on the Klamath remain the same: an over-allocated river and dams that diminish water quality. What is different, though, is how the tribe is representing itself in court. As a lead attorney and a tribal member, Cordalis hopes to change those two fundamental problems by creating a legal framework that prioritizes fish as much as it does agriculture. “We are back to the time of the tribes on the river again,” Cordalis said. “We are reclaiming that governance now.”
One of Cordalis’ most important cases, Yurok Tribe et al. vs. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation et al., is currently in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes, joined by commercial fishermen, are suing the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation over the agency’s water plan, which they allege is not adequately preventing the fish diseases that result from low flows. They argue that the salmon, specifically endangered coho, need more water to consistently flush out disease-causing parasites. Water districts and irrigators, namely the Klamath Water Users Association, have sided with the Bureau, disputing the need for increased river flows and claiming they can’t give up any more water. This year, diversions away from irrigation have delayed farming, and White said he worries that some Klamath Basin farmers will go under.
As part of that case, in April , a district court judge ruled that endangered salmon on the Klamath are entitled to prioritized protection under the law. So when infection rates for salmon tipped over the legal limit later that month, water was again diverted from irrigators. The rest of the case has yet to be heard, but if Cordalis and her team secure a win, it will be an incremental step toward restoring Klamath salmon, and by extension the Yurok Tribe. The case and resulting water flows, she said, is “one of the most important conservation measures protecting Klamath River salmon from complete extinction.”
If Cordalis succeeds in winning this case and others, she will owe much of it to the family members who fought before her. Cordalis’ grandmother, Lavina Bowers, née Mattz, the family matriarch, has lived through the acquisition of Yurok lands and water by non-Natives, confrontations with armed federal agents, and the gradual renewal of Yurok political will and culture. I met Bowers at the Requa Inn, a 104-year-old hotel owned by Cordalis’ aunt (the first Yurok owners in nearly 100 years), which overlooks the Klamath River on the Yurok Reservation. It was a blue-skied January morning, and the light shimmered on the water’s surface through the inn windows while Cordalis and her 2-year-old son, Keane, played nearby. Bowers wore a denim jacket and silk neckerchief, and as she described growing up in the 1930s, her traditional shell earrings swung gently back and forth.
As a child, Bowers lived upriver on a family farm, where she and her brother, Raymond, picked salmonberries in summer and rode a boat to school in the fall. It was a time of intense racism, socially accepted and legally codified in state and federal policy. At that time, the Yurok, a tribe long established along the rugged coast and Klamath River, had no overarching government and little say in what happened to its lands or people. Many of Bowers’ peers were sent to boarding schools by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a disruption that fractured her generation. Some returned, trying to earn a living in the fishing canneries in Klamath Glen on the reservation, or with the lumber companies, whose wealth was held primarily in non-Native hands. “Indian people have never really had justice,” Bowers told me. “A lot of us didn’t know how to stand up and talk for ourselves. I was an Indian kid that was treated like an Indian.”
The Yurok signed a treaty with the United States in 1851, but white settlers, hungry for gold in the newfound state of California, pressured Congress not to ratify it. A reservation was established in 1855, but as early as 1874, settlers argued that it had been abandoned, and that they had a right to homestead. In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, essentially divvying up the reservation into small parcels for each Yurok, with any “surplus” lands going to non-Native homesteaders. Much of the allotted land thus passed out of Yurok hands. “Each time that I make a trip to the territory,” a BIA superintendent wrote in 1918, “I have it more forcibly impressed upon my mind that somehow the Indians did not get a fair portion of the land.”
Still, they had the river. In the early 1940s, despite a state ban on traditional salmon gillnetting, Lavina and Raymond would sneak down to the Klamath at night to fish. Under the light of the moon, they would set their long nets across the breezy river, lie on a sand bar and wait for the fish. When game wardens came by to pull up the nets, the children would hide under a blanket. “I used to lay there under the blanket thinking they’d hear my heart beat,” Lavina said. “I’d try not to breathe.”
Raymond Mattz was 12 years old when he first got in trouble with a warden for gillnetting. As an adult, in September 1969, he was fishing the fall run of chinook salmon at the family’s fishing hole, called Brooks Riffle — named for his great-great-great grandfather. When a state game warden caught Mattz and a group of friends with five gill nets, Mattz claimed all five nets were his and was arrested. He then sued the state of California to return the nets, but the state refused to return them, claiming that Mattz could not legally gillnet in the state of California. The state argued that the Yurok Reservation had lost so much of its land to non-Native homesteaders and companies that it no longer met the legal definition of Indian Country. At its core, Mattz vs. Arnett was a challenge to tribal sovereignty, the ability of tribes to govern themselves. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state lost. The court affirmed, in 1973, the Yurok Tribe’s treaty rights to fish by traditional means, including gillnetting, and declared that the Yurok Reservation was indeed a part of Indian Country, a legal term that refers to lands held by tribes. Mattz’s stand on Brooks Riffle is not only part of Cordalis’ family lore but is also recorded in federal Indian law.
The Mattz case became part of a broader conflict in the Northwest called the Fish Wars. Triggered in part by the political momentum of the civil rights era, the Fish Wars included civil disobedience, such as “fish-ins,” in which Indigenous fishermen would flagrantly practice their treaty-held fishing rights, only to be arrested. The movement was also galvanized by the landmark Boldt Decision of 1974, which reaffirmed the rights of tribes to co-manage their fisheries and to harvest according to various signed treaties.
“The fact that we won that right in the Supreme Court, you’d like to think that they decided the way that things should be,” Bowers said.
Still, after the case was concluded in 1973, California found other means to invalidate the tribe’s fishing rights. A Supreme Court decision in 1977 gave states the power over tribes to regulate tribal fishing for conservation purposes. In 1978, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife closed down Indian fishing on the Klamath River, ostensibly for conservation reasons. Lavina’s son (and Amy’s father), Bill Bowers, remembers that period well. Signs and bumper stickers put up by disgruntled non-Native fisherman appeared on and near the reservation: “Can an Indian, Save a Fish.” Federal agents in riot gear enforced the moratorium by pulling up nets and ramming boats, and, the Yurok allege, by using physical violence and intimidation. “The hostility that was there was intense,” Bill told me. They began fishing at night again, leaving their flashlights in the truck.
It was into this moment of unrest that Cordalis was born, in March 1980.
Cordalis was the first of five siblings. From the time she was 5, Cordalis and her dad, a Yurok citizen and parole and probation officer, would drive from their family’s home in Oregon to Requa, on the reservation, when the salmon began their spring run from the Pacific up the Klamath, and again in the fall when the fish returned to the ocean. The pair would hang out at the seasonal fishing camps along the river and at their family fishing hole at Brooks Riffle, where, Cordalis says, “it all began.”
They would watch the salmon move up the river, scales glinting in the sun, and they would talk about the Yurok’s history. The Yurok people have fished and eaten the same runs of Klamath salmon for so many generations, Bill told her, that their DNA is intertwined. He told Amy fishing stories and family history as they drove home, bouncing down the road, the truckbed full of chinook salmon. Bill would talk politics with his fishing buddies, as Amy listened from the backseat of the cab of her dad’s truck. “She was my cruising buddy,” Bill told me.
Bill was forthright about the hardships the Yurok were up against — the drug and alcohol abuse and poverty that existed alongside pervasive racism, and social and environmental injustices. “You can change things,” he would tell her, “but you have to do that within the prevalent system. The most effective way is working with that system.”
In 2004, two years after the fish kill, a 24-year-old Cordalis began classes at the Pre-Law Summer Institute through the American Indian Law Center at the University of New Mexico, an intensive program for Indigenous law students that replicates the first eight weeks of law school. Helen Padilla, director of the center and a tribal member of Isleta Pueblo, told me the program is designed to “open the door for the opportunity for Indian people to be able to have a voice” in the legal issues that affect them. Many of the students who go through the program do so for the same reasons as Cordalis, Padilla said: to give back to their tribe and improve their communities. “An Indian attorney has a much more vested interest in advocating for their Indian clients, and a better understanding of why a tribe might want to litigate or negotiate,” Padilla said.
There, Cordalis began to learn the full scope of tribal sovereignty, the power of treaties, and the authority that tribes have in government-to-government relationships with the United States. Because tribes remain the sovereign nations they were before colonizers arrived, they have a unique relationship with the United States. Cordalis had known few lawyers before, and even fewer who were Indigenous. That experience, coupled with mentorship from the Indian law firm Berkey Williams, which often represented the Yurok, helped her understand how much could be done within a legal framework, inside the system. “It was the first time that I’d encountered these issues my family has been dealing with for hundreds of years, in an academic way,” Cordalis said. It revealed how much agency the law could provide, and how legal decisions in one part of Indian Country could affect all tribes. “Up until that point, we were the clients,” she told me. “We were the victims, frankly.”
She also learned the limits of the law. A thesis she co-authored in law school analyzed a Supreme Court case that permitted the logging of Yurok ancestral lands, even though they had deep spiritual importance to the tribe. The justices decided that because the Forest Service owned the lands, the Yurok had no legal right to their management. Historically, she wrote, the United States has attempted to sever tribes like the Yurok from their lands, especially once legal title is forcibly transferred, regardless of a tribe’s past relationship to the land. The justices, she argued, ignored history. “The tribal narratives underlying (the case) suggest the opposite is true — that tribal attachment to place persists before, during, and after legal conquest.”
Cordalis graduated from Sturm College of Law, at the University of Denver, in 2007, and went to work as an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund in nearby Boulder. There, she learned the complexities of water law and how it intersects with Indian law. NARF was established in Boulder in 1971, with an all-Indigenous board. John Echohawk, NARF’s executive director since 1977, was in the first class of students to graduate from the pre-law institute that Cordalis attended. “For so long, the only choices were non-Indian attorneys,” said Rodina Cave Parnall, a Quechua Peruvian Indian, director of the institute. Since the institute’s inception in 1967, when there were just a handful of Indigenous lawyers, some 1,200 students have graduated, including former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Native American lawyers and leaders have steadily established themselves across Indian Country and beyond, as a new, younger generation is filling the ranks.
As Cordalis began practicing law, the issues on the Klamath continued to evolve. In 2006, the license to operate the Klamath Hydroelectric Project expired. The project’s eight aging dams cut off miles of habitat for salmon, blocking their ability to run up the river, and that year, due to the low salmon numbers, commercial fishing was closed along more than 400 miles of coastline. The hydropower operator, PacifiCorp, faced the possibility of environmental lawsuits if it did not retrofit the dams to help salmon, but the cost of doing so outweighed their profitability. So, in 2009, PacifiCorp began working with a coalition of politicians, conservation groups and tribal nations. The working group, which called itself the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, reached an agreement to remove four of the eight dams on the Klamath, pending federal approval, beginning in 2020 — the largest dam removal project in the United States.
In litigation, Klamath Basin irrigators remain agnostic about the dam removal, because its effect on their interests is unclear. Some proponents say removing the dams could alleviate legal pressure on agriculture, because without dams, a more natural water cycle could help flush out fish diseases — and decrease lawsuits. Meanwhile, the farmers and ranchers on the Upper Klamath continued to struggle. During the drought of 2010, the Klamath Basin received $10 million from Congress. Two years later brought another drought, as did the following year, and the year after that (and the next year, and the next).
In 2013, severe drought meant that farmers’ water was cut off during critical parts of the growing season. Amid rising discontent, Oregon state watermasters — a state position that helps track water rights — had to personally visit farms and shut off their irrigation water. “People are hurt, they are angry, and I think there’s grieving,” Roger Nicholson, a cattle rancher in the Wood River Valley near Fort Klamath, told HCN at the time. “To lose the productive ability of our land is almost like the loss of a family member. It’s deep down.”
The emotional events of that year drove one watermaster, Scott White, to become the new director of the Klamath Water Users Association in 2016. “At the end of the day, farmers are the backbone of America,” White told me. “To be able to grow food and feed America: It’s hard to do that without water.”
The Klamath Basin’s non-Native agricultural ties to the land are deeply entrenched. In 1902, Oregon and California both ceded land to the federal government, which then opened it to homesteading with the promise of water rights for farmers. Veterans of both world wars were given preference, as wetlands were drained and dams were raised on the Klamath. The Bureau of Reclamation’s mission for the Klamath Project was to “reclaim the sunbaked prairies and worthless swamps.”
Ever since, these communities of farmers and ranchers have hung on like stalwart junipers, enduring economic hardship and drought, with the support of the federal government. But that’s been changing slowly, particularly since endangered and threatened species have gained priority under the law, and since tribes began exercising their senior water rights. (Tribal water rights, which can date back to original treaties, often provide the oldest rights on a river.) That long history means that farming out here is more than an income; it’s a culture. And that produces a binding knot of paradoxes between river users. “When I do have those conversations with those folks, whether it’s the Klamath Tribes or the Yurok Tribe, and they talk about their issues and concerns, I mean, it sounds like I’m talking to my guys,” White, the most frequent legal opponent of the downstream tribes, told me. “It’s just different perspectives that are out there, but they are identical issues.”
In 2014, the Yurok Tribe offered Cordalis a position on its legal team. It had always been her intention to return to Requa, so Cordalis and her husband, Daniel Cordalis, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and an attorney, moved back with their 2-year-old son, Brooks — named for the family riffle on the Klamath. But they found it difficult going; they couldn’t find a house, or daycare, or a good grocery store. Food insecurity is prevalent across Del Norte and Humboldt counties, and the closest store to Klamath Glen is about 30 minutes away. After a few months, Daniel was offered a position as an attorney with the environmental law group Earthjustice, in Boulder, so they returned to Colorado.
Later that year, the Yurok Fisheries Department recorded a sweeping epidemic on the Klamath River: 81 percent of its juvenile salmon were infected with Ceratanova shasta, a deadly parasite that thrives when water flows are low. As Cordalis resettled in Colorado, C. shasta infection rates rose, hitting 91 percent the following year, an outbreak that would damage the fish population for years to come. In August 2015, Cordalis had her second son, Keane, named after the Yurok word for fisherman. A year later, when the Yurok Tribe asked her to be the tribe’s general counsel, she agreed. She moved her family to McKinleyville, an ocean-side town just south of the Yurok Reservation, and got to work.
Cordalis, who is now 38, is only the second tribal attorney in the tribe’s history. The first, John Corbett, started in the 1990s with few resources to work with. “When he first started, they gave him a milk crate, a pad and a pencil,” Cordalis told me. By contrast, Cordalis now has a staff of five that prioritizes water issues, dam removal and reacquiring Yurok land for Yurok ownership. While her team represents a broader trend in Indian Country, Native Americans still make up just .2 percent of lawyers nationwide. Still, an Indigenous-led team can change the way law is practiced.
Chief Justice of the Yurok Tribe Abby Abinanti, herself a tribal member, was the first Native woman to pass the bar in California, in 1974. Cordalis’ role as both a general counsel and a Yurok citizen is an important development, Abinanti told me. “A lot of what you do as a lawyer is communicate with people who don’t know the story,” Abinanti said. “And the best storytellers are the ones who are a part of that story.” Reclaiming the legal narrative allows the tribe to litigate in the Yurok way. While law is often about individual rights, that’s not all the tribe focuses on. “It isn’t, ‘I have the right to do this to you,’ it’s, ‘I have a responsibility to do this for the community,’ and that is a very different approach to the world,” Abinanti said.
“Having a Yurok person in this role can have an impact,” Cordalis said, “because there’s a lot of ways to interpret the law. It’s going to make a difference, because we’ll exercise that sovereignty like Yuroks, not a county or state government.”
Cordalis told me there are many avenues to effect change, be it through science, activism or litigation. Her legal approach, she said, is to identify common ground where possible. With the irrigators, it’s the Klamath. “That creates the tension, but it also means we both rely on the Klamath River for our livelihood,” she said. “And I think that connection to place and a resource creates a sense of respect and duty to protect.” Cordalis said she feels less personal resentment toward the upstream irrigators and the feds than some of her elders and peers do. After all, it was her father, uncle and aunts, not her, who endured armed standoffs on the Klamath. Even so, the family stories drive her, she said. They carry a weight that brings momentum to her work.
“Lawyers aren’t born, they’re made,” Abinanti said. “It’s a lot of hard work, and she’s going to do the work. I do believe she is the future.”
Within her first six months on the job, Cordalis was involved with two major water cases that have implications for salmon survival and the Klamath’s health. One of them is the case against the feds currently in the 9th Circuit. The other was a battle over water allocation on the Trinity River, a major tributary to the Klamath, and whether water should go to salmon, or be diverted to California agriculture. In 2017, the 9th Circuit ruled that the amount of evidence demonstrating the salmon’s need was “staggering,” and that the restoration of the fisheries on the river was “unlawfully long overdue.” The court ordered the flushing flows to rehabilitate the Trinity, which had lost 80 percent of its salmon habitat due to the irrigation project on the river, to continue.
Both cases represent progress, but an even bigger task may yet lie ahead. While piecemeal litigation addresses problems one by one, no successful, large-scale agreement to deal with water allocation on the Klamath exists. “It’s a living, organic basin, and it will be there forever, and people need to have long-term solutions that they control, rather than courts,” said Paul Simmons, who represents the Klamath Water Users Association and was involved with negotiating the last agreement. Cordalis agrees. While lawsuits can be a useful tool, she said, “nobody really wins through litigation.” Water is not the only answer to restoring the fishery, and a comprehensive review of river management is needed to support both sustainable agriculture and the return of a pre-dammed river, she said.
The last attempted negotiation, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, died after Congress failed to pass the necessary legislation to support it. That agreement took years to formulate and was propelled by a friendship between the former executive director for the Yurok Tribe, Troy Fletcher, and the former director of the Klamath Water Users Association, Greg Addington, who used to golf together. “The real beauty of the past agreement was the relationships that were built,” said White, the current director. “The tragedy is that I think that we’re back in that era of litigation.” He’s still looking for his “golfing partner,” he said. In the meantime, the severity of this year’s drought has him worried. “Yes, absolutely we want to get to a long-term solution of some sort, where we don’t have to face these issues year in and year out. But on the other hand, if we don’t survive this year, we’re not going to be at a table to talk about that.”
The irrigators and river tribes have a long road to rebuild, starting from the rubble of three previously failed agreements. Under the Trump administration, Alan Mikkelsen, a senior advisor to the secretary of Interior, has begun contacting stakeholders about the potential of a new agreement, because at this point, it’s obvious that no one who depends on the river is doing well — not the farmers, not the fishermen, and certainly not the salmon.
Last August, the Yurok Tribe held its annual Salmon Festival, a public celebration of the first return of native chinook to the Klamath each fall. The 2017 festival was overshadowed by painfully low salmon runs, so much so that festivalgoers ate salmon from Alaska instead. (The year before, they’d had hamburgers and hot dogs.) Because of the long life cycle of chinook, the juvenile salmon populations plagued by C. shasta in 2014 and 2015 were returning as adults, with deeply thinned ranks. The tribe cancelled commercial fishing for the second year in a row, and, for the first time, it cancelled subsistence fishing, a particularly personal blow to families on the Klamath. As the festival got underway, the nearby docks were unusually quiet — devoid of boats, burger shacks and sun-beaten fishermen. A parade went on under skies smudged with smoke from southern Oregon wildfires.
“It’s saddening and sickening to see what’s happening to our salmon runs in the Klamath River,” Chairman Thomas O’Rourke told me in his office, a few days after the parade. “The impacts are major; it’s a way of life. In the modern world, people take things for granted and say, ‘You can eat other things.’ Here, our people depend on our resources to live.”
Two months later, Oregon’s irrigators appealed the lower court’s decision to allow increased flows for the salmon — the next step in a potentially long path to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In January, I drove with Cordalis to the mouth of the Klamath, where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean. We were supposed to take a boat upriver, to see Brooks Riffle, but the boat had broken down, so we walked the quiet docks instead, the estuary water in the afternoon light glinting like fish scales. Little Keane ran ahead, as Cordalis told me about the sense of loss she feels at not having seen the Klamath at its wildest and healthiest. She’s never seen the salmon runs she heard about in her dad’s stories. “Grandma and Great-Uncle Ray talk about huge fish runs; I’ve never seen that,” Cordalis said.
The Yurok’s ancestral lands were once called the Redwood Empire, a vast swath of land that stretched inland through old growth and rocky cliffs, with the Klamath running through it like an artery, the coho salmon red and thick as blood. As Yurok lands were taken, the Klamath suffered, and today, even if the four dams come down, even if the fish got all the water in the Klamath, the salmon would still have to contend with an unhealthy ocean.
We returned to the car with Keane in tow, and, as the sun set, began the drive home. “You talk about the American Dream,” Cordalis said, the coastal mists and forest shadows darkening in the twilight. “My family has experienced the exact opposite, through assimilation and genocide — just taking, taking, taking.”
Despite all that, the Yurok have always had the Klamath and its salmon. Today, that sense of place sustains the tribe’s persistence and underpins Cordalis’ work. A generation ago, no one would have thought it possible that the four dams could come down. Now, it seems it’s just a matter of time. “We see who we are, and our core values don’t change,” Cordalis said. “And the funny thing is that we’ve been fighting that same thing since white people came here, so we’re kind of good at it by now.”
Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for HCN.
From Wyoming Public Radio (Rae Ellen Bichell):
In the city of Golden, Jennifer Hopwood teaches transportation department employees how to tell a bee from a wasp or a fly…
Hopwood is a specialist in pollinator conservation with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. She says honeybees may have shaped the bee stereotype, but they’re actually newcomers to North America, arriving a few centuries ago with Europeans. Native bees often burrow nests in the ground, and some look like wasps or flies.
One fourth of Colorado’s bumblebee species are threatened and the western monarch butterfly isn’t doing well, either. Migrating populations recently reached a record low.
“CDOT’s identified — with federal highways — the potential to help improve pollinator habitat along our roadsides,” says Mike Banovich, a landscape architect with CDOT who organized the workshops. “Before that we were primarily focused on erosion control so our right-of-way consists of really aggresive grasses. But now the emphasis through our policy is to plant natives and then a step up is pollinator natives.”
Roadsides can’t fix the habitat fragmentation that is part of the problem for insects, says Hopwood.
“But they’re a natural asset,” she says. “It’s an important landscape feature that can provide connectivity and can support life cycles of different pollinators. And we have millions of acres of roadside, so it’s definitely an opportunity.”
She says less pesticides and more wildflowers and unmowed grass could help a lot. Next, Hopwood will make her way to the Western Slope to hold similar workshops there.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.
From The High Country News (Tay Wiles):
Weather rolls into Arivaca, Arizona, with plenty of warning. The community’s 630 residents live in a desert valley with sweeping vistas, where gigantic cloud mosaics are constant and ever shifting with the wind.
For a long time, Arivaca has received outsiders looking to make it their own. It sits just 11 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, on land that was once the territory of the Tohono O’odham. The area’s vast public lands are littered with defunct silver and gold mines. In the 1970s, hippies moved in, and later, a stream of retirees. “We have people that come to Arivaca just to get away from whatever they want to get away from,” says librarian Mary Kasulaitis, a local historian and fourth-generation rancher.
For a hideout, though, it’s pretty smack-dab in the middle of things. Almost everyone has a story about undocumented immigrants knocking on their door, desperate for water. Arivacans tell stories about bricks of pot dropped on their land to be carried north. Locals say smuggling has long been a tacit part of life here.
Yet Arivaca — a vibrant community of artists, families, ranchers and desert rats — tries not to let politics or the drug trade disrupt daily life. “Most people in Arivaca look at national and international politics as kind of a joke,” says longtime resident Alan Wallen, 50, the founder of the town’s cooperative internet provider. “Here’s the thing about Arivaca. More and more, it became tolerant of different viewpoints. It evolved into a really odd mix of really tolerant people.” As one Tucson newspaper put it, Arivaca is “a live-and-let-live kind of town.”
So it was significant when, in 2017, locals bristled at the arrival of an outsider. Tim Foley, a wiry, blue-eyed 59-year-old, moved to town from nearby Sasabe. Foley is the head of Arizona Border Recon, an armed group that tries to intercept immigrants and smugglers in the Borderlands, and also claims to provide “intelligence and security services” to the Border Patrol. He is a well-known figure in the right-wing militia world and, increasingly, in anti-immigrant conservative politics. Last September, Foley gave a speech outside the U.S. Capitol building, alongside several members of Congress and presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway.
Around the same time, other men appeared in Arivaca, either inspired by Foley or by President Donald Trump’s calls to “build the wall.” They used the town as a backdrop for online tirades against smuggling and immigration. Their presence irked those already uneasy with Foley, and set in motion an organizing effort among a small group of locals, who worried about the threat the visitors posed and wondered what to do about it.
Here’s the other thing about Arivaca: This wasn’t the first time people had come from away to expound on the evils of immigration. And last time it happened, things went badly for the community. Ever since a fateful night in 2009, many Arivacans say some things are not welcome here.
ON THAT MAY NIGHT IN 2009, a woman and man banged on the door of a local home, wielding a handgun, revolver and a duct-taped shotgun. The woman was Shawna Forde, the leader of Minuteman American Defense, a militia that patrolled the Borderlands for migrants. Originally from a Seattle suburb, Forde was also interested in joining the drug trade. That night, posing as a member of the Border Patrol, she entered the home of the Flores family, looking for drugs and money. She and her male companion found neither. Still, they murdered Raul “Junior” Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, shooting Junior in the neck, throat and head, and Brisenia point-blank in the face. The killers were put behind bars, while Arivaca was left with the kind of wounds that never truly heal.
When Tim Foley moved here in 2017, some locals thought Arizona Border Recon sounded a lot like Minuteman American Defense. In Sasabe, Foley had earned a reputation when he threatened to burn down his house after the rent was raised, according to a sheriff’s report. “We were warned from people in Sasabe,” says Clara Godfrey, a petite and charismatic 58-year-old, whose family has roots in Mexico, Greece and southern Arizona. “We didn’t give him much of a chance,” says Eli Buchanan, 36, who runs the recycling center. “As soon as we found out he was moving here, the town had a big candlelight vigil for Brisenia and made it clear he wasn’t welcome.”
But Foley stayed and continued patrolling the border. “I thrive on using my mind,” he told me during an interview at his home in Arivaca. As border security became a cornerstone issue for the Trump administration, Foley’s longtime anti-immigrant obsession took on new prominence. And in some online corners of the far-right world, so did Arivaca.
The second outsider was a tall redheaded conspiracy theorist named Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer, who often goes by Lewis Arthur. In early September, he started livestreaming from Arivaca’s main street to his Facebook followers, claiming that a local humanitarian aid group that helps migrants in need of food, water or medical attention was in cahoots with drug cartels.
“If you’re ever down here,” Arthur bellowed, “if you want to know who helps child traffickers, if you want to know who helps dope smugglers, if you want to know who helps ISIS — any of the bad guys. These people help them.” A woman in a long brown dress approached him. It was Megan Davern, 30, a local butcher and bartender. Davern had seen Arthur in the bar and realized he was a friend of Foley. As he livestreamed, she asked Arthur what he was up to, and if he was part of a larger group. “We’re only with God,” he replied.
“I would appreciate it if you don’t come in again,” Davern told him.
“Understood,” he said, and continued his tirade.
A few days later, Arthur confronted another bartender downtown, demanding to know why an anti-militia sign had been posted on the door. When the bartender asked him to leave, he made a vague threat to mess with the town’s water supply. As he livestreamed, his Facebook followers encouraged him. Someone suggested burning down the bar.
So Arivacans started to organize. They created a phone tree and helped the bartenders close up at night. Godfrey called a community meeting to urge people to watch out for one another. What the heck was going on? they wondered. Would anyone actually try to burn down the bar — or worse? About 50 people packed the old schoolhouse, and a local cowboy named Huck sat outside to keep watch, in case someone came around with bad intentions.
“I have always been adamant in my belief, since what happened to us in 2009, that these people are nothing but no good,” Godfrey told me. “We have a tree planted for Brisenia. I’m at the point where I don’t need to plant a tree. We need to take a stand.”
Also around this time, Bryan Melchior of Sandy, Utah, arrived, talking about the need to fortify the border. Melchior, who ran a group called the Utah Gun Exchange, was famous for driving the country in an armored vehicle mounted with a machine-gun replica to intimidate gun control advocates at rallies. When he drove the vehicle through Arivaca, he set off a wave of new anxiety. He had been inspired by Trump’s calls for a border wall. “We’re in town because Trump is going to put the border at the top of the national priorities list again,” Melchior said, in a recording made by an anti-militia organizer. He wanted to lease land and start building the wall himself.
Davern was behind the bar when he showed up, carrying an open container of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. When Melchior said he sometimes worked with Foley, and started getting into arguments with the bar’s patrons, Davern asked him to leave. And then she called another town meeting.
THIS TIME, THE TOWNSPEOPLE CALLED IN OUTSIDE SUPPORT: They invited Jess Campbell to the meeting. Campbell works for the nonprofit Rural Organizing Project in Oregon, which helps communities organize around issues ranging from defunded libraries to hate crimes and far-right extremism. In 15 years of this work, Campbell had never seen such an organized and self-directed community. “Arivaca was very special in that people weren’t so terrified of speaking to neighbors. They have a strong social fabric,” she said. But they wanted answers. “Folks felt their community might be a special kind of messed-up and were trying to understand why this happened to them,” Campbell told me.
At the meeting, she gave a presentation on how militia groups operate in rural areas, and suggested ways to stay safe in the face of threats. She helped Arivacans consider ways to collect and organize information about incidents like the recent confrontations at the bar. And she tried to help them figure out what the real threat was.
Campbell explained that militia groups tend to see themselves as above the law, which increases the risk of confrontation with law enforcement. For example, in 2015, a chapter of the Oath Keepers that had embedded in a rural county in southern Oregon for over two years ultimately led hundreds of supporters in an armed show of resistance to law enforcement at a mining claim.
But there was also a more diffuse threat. An armed militia in a small community can be polarizing, forcing people to choose sides. “If they can drive a wedge into the community, or people are very quiet because they’re nervous to speak out, that’s where we see (militia groups) get the strongest foothold and be able to rock and roll,” Campbell said. This happened in Burns, Oregon, during the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, she said. Militia groups “tried to twist the arms of whoever was in power there — the sheriff, the (county officials),” Campbell said. When the militia failed to gain support, it demonized local leadership and created divisions in the community.
“That’s the playbook,” Campbell said.
After Campbell left, Godfrey, Davern and others monitored social media and kept in touch, sharing information about threats and accusations on a community Facebook page. A woman named Ann Ayers collected internet videos on her computer — documentation for potential harassment claims. Arivacans pestered Facebook to shut down Arthur’s page, which the company eventually did.
In their quest to understand why their sleepy downtown had drawn so many threatening outsiders, one common thread emerged: Tim Foley. In November, Ben Bergquam, a California talk radio host with over 100,000 Facebook followers, livestreamed outside the bar. “Good morning, y’all,” he began, donning a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hat. He trailed off, forgetting the name of the town he was in. Tim Foley stood in the background, smoking a cigarette.
Foley didn’t actively take credit for bringing the other men to town. He even distanced himself from Arthur after the man drew too much negative attention online. But Foley had become a magnet for MAGA activists looking for a like-minded tour guide to the Borderlands; Melchior and Bergquam both came in part to meet him.
“I got invited by the one and only Tim Foley … of Arizona Border Recon,” Bergquam said in his livestream. “If you’re coming through Arivaca and you’re a patriot, don’t go to that bar. Or do go to that bar.”
The downtown incidents weren’t the worst part. It was the uncertainty about who else might be watching online. Who would show up next, and with what intentions? “Things that were said in anger about our community weren’t just said to us,” Godfrey said, “but to the world.”
AT ITS CORE, ARIZONA BORDER RECON is a three-person organization composed of Foley, his girlfriend, Jan Fields, and a man named Lorenzo Murillo, who also lives in Arivaca. Foley started thinking about immigration issues when he was living in Phoenix in 2006. As the owner of a small construction company, Foley said undocumented immigrants undercut his bids. Then the mortgage crisis hit, and his house foreclosed. Frustrated and broke, he sold his three Harley Davidsons and moved to Sasabe, which straddles the international border. In 2010, he founded Arizona Border Recon.
Today, Foley and Fields host groups of people, mostly white men, for a week or two at a time to patrol the desert for illegal activity. In addition to intercepting migrants, Foley aims to disrupt drug-smuggling routes.
Foley also courts the media: He’s received coverage from Wired, Vice, USA Today, and many others. He usually charges news outlets $200 to tag along on his patrols. (High Country News interviewed Foley but did not pay for his time.) Cartel Land, a 2015 documentary film nominated for an Academy Award, compared Foley to the Mexican citizens taking an armed stand against the cartels inflicting horrific violence on their communities. It was great publicity.
That same year, Foley began connecting with right-wing militia leaders. Montanan Ryan Payne and a California man named Gary Hunt recruited him to help establish an organization called Operation Mutual Defense, or OMD. The group dreamed about organizing militia actions across the country — from standing up for ranchers at odds with the federal government and breaking fellow patriot movement members out of jail, to intercepting buses of Muslim refugees in Montana and other states, and interrogating them. Hunt is a longtime rightwing thinker, who described Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as “the first patriot of the second American revolution.” Payne was a primary militia leader involved in the Nevada standoff between rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government in 2014. Lingering enthusiasm from the Bundy victory — or as Hunt called it, the great “unrustling” — fueled the creation of OMD.
Foley brought media savvy to the group. He encouraged members not to call themselves “freedom fighters,” since it sounded too aggressive. He recommended “concerned citizens” instead. “Image is everything, and you don’t want to portray that offense,” Foley said at the time. “You want to portray defense.” A series of conversations recorded between the OMD founders reveal that Foley planned to provide a place for people to train for future operations. The group saw Foley and the border as key to building a national militia network.
“That’s the beauty of the border,” Payne said “There’s an active, hot environment that we can conduct real-world operations, where we’re making a difference and at the same time, we’re building cohesion amongst ourselves.”
OMD’s founders also discussed using Lewis Arthur’s Tucson-based group, Veterans on Patrol, to provide tents and cooking facilities if they were to have “an operation like the Bundy Ranch” on the border. OMD discussed taking a stand against the government in Harney County, Oregon, where anti-federal sentiment eventually morphed into the 2016 armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. But Foley told me he ultimately wasn’t on board with the occupation because it came too close to a government overthrow. “When they started talking crazy, I said, ‘nope, I’m out.’ ” As the 41-day occupation unfolded and then unraveled when state police and FBI apprehended its leaders, Foley stayed home in Arizona, out of the fray.
Foley scoffs at some Arivacans’ fears that Arizona Border Recon or its associates would cause violence on par with the 2009 shootings. “Go into town and shoot people’s doors in? Are you out of your freakin’ mind?” he told me, in his tidy mobile home in Arivaca. And not everyone here minds his presence. Many people told me that if he wants to help Border Patrol stop illegal activity, more power to him. He’s just one more person living his dream.
But to Godfrey and her allies, his connections are troubling. They worry that Foley is becoming a local conduit for national angst, who will only bring more disruption the longer he stays.
BORDER MILITIAS FIRST GAINED STEAM in the early and mid-2000s. Several made alliances with cattle ranchers who were fed up with migrant traffic across their land and smugglers cutting their fences. In 2000, a paramilitary group called Ranch Rescue formed to help Arizona cattlemen defend their property. After members of the group were arrested for imprisoning and pistol-whipping migrants, Ranch Rescue dissolved. Then, in 2008, a group called the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps set up operations from a ranch 30 miles north of Arivaca. The Corps was Shawna Forde’s first real introduction to unofficial border patrols; her Minuteman American Defense was a spinoff.
Today, some Arivaca ranchers are vehemently opposed to the militias. Local ranchers Jim and Sue Chilton had nothing to do with Shawna Forde, but they are vocal about their support for Foley and Arizona Border Recon. One of the Chiltons’ federal grazing allotments abuts the international border in a heavily trafficked smuggling area, Jim says. The Chiltons want Trump’s wall and more resources for Border Patrol. For now, though, they have people like Foley, who calls the couple his “biggest cheerleader” in Arivaca.
The Chiltons don’t view the 2009 murders as the result of rightwing extremism. “It wasn’t really a militia,” Sue Chilton said in a video the Utah Gun Exchange posted last fall. She argued that drug dealers orchestrated the killings. Indeed, in court documents, a judge described one of the three found guilty as a dealer who was “plotting to kill (Junior) Flores as a perceived rival in the drug trade.” That man was Clara Godfrey’s nephew, Albert Gaxiola, who waited outside the home while the first shots were fired.
And yet it’s also true that rightwing extremism was baked into the horrific deed. According to court documents, Forde got involved in the trade as a way to fund her Minuteman American Defense, which required transportation and firearms. Jason Bush of Wenatchee, Washington, the man who shot Flores and his daughter that night, was part of Forde’s group and a known white supremacist.
All of this makes it difficult to untangle the real threat in Arivaca. If the murders were the result of a drug feud, why not organize against smugglers? Some said that’s just not practical. “When you live near a border of any kind, there is smuggling,” Mary Kasulaitis told me. “It would happen if you were off the coast of Cornwall in England.” Smuggling is an economy as old as the border. People told me it’s just a fact of life.
“For the most part, Arivaca has been pretty stable and quiet because they don’t want to attract law enforcement,” according to David Neiwert, a national expert in right-wing movements and author of a book about Shawna Forde. Militia members, however, threw things off balance, he said. “(Militia) introduce an unstable element that’s capable of extreme violence,” Neiwert told me. He said militias can become tools for people who need muscle, whether it’s ranchers feuding with the government, like Cliven Bundy, or drug dealers. In Arivaca, Neiwert said, “Shawna was basically a lethal tool.”
By Neiwert’s logic, the late-2018 confrontations had disrupted Arivaca’s equilibrium once again. This time, though, there seemed to be little promise of resolution. There were no obvious repercussions, no arrests or court trials as there had been after 2009. Instead, there were lingering questions — and a persistent sense of unease.
AFTER THE START OF THE NEW YEAR, Arthur and Melchior faced charges elsewhere for criminal trespassing and guns and drug violations. If the Arivacans’ goal was to get people to stop making angry livestreams downtown, “maybe it did work,” Wallen said. “Maybe that’s what it takes. That each time there is a flare-up, people get together and let their voices be heard. But each time this border war escalates, people in our town get hurt. And we’re tired of that.”
Experts say border militias don’t just have a local impact, but a national one. “Extremely anti-immigrant ideas are now embedded in the White House and our policymaking system,” says Heidi Beirich, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. Beirich says the mobilization of border militias in the mid-2000s helped elevate immigration issues and nativist rhetoric into mainstream politics. “It was picked up by the Tea Party, eventually made its way into the GOP, and we got Trump.” Now, the cycle is coming full circle, with the president fueling the ideas that motivate people like Arthur, Melchior and Foley. “They see themselves as a bulwark protecting Trump,” Beirich says of many far-right activists.
In January, Godfrey held another meeting at the historic schoolhouse, the fourth such gathering in the last five months. “We have to really be on guard,” she warned her fellow citizens. “Everybody can have different views, but when views become murder, then I don’t want to hear shit about your views.” The group planned to send a letter to the district attorney about the livestreamers and the town’s concerns about militia activity. Godfrey wanted the authorities to be aware, in case things went downhill. Word also got around that Foley was interested in buying a piece of land outside of town. In February, Eli Buchanan sold his tractor in order to purchase the land first. In early March, locals reported yet another armed group in town, this time a couple of men who reportedly called themselves anarchists and wanted to confront Foley. Wallen said he and another local man talked them down.
“There’s a feeling like we can’t let this rest until it’s done, and I don’t know what that means,” Ann Ayers told me. Ayers worries the threat to the town will persist as long as the president continues his inflammatory rhetoric. She still periodically plugs into the Facebook pages of right-wing activists, where the conversation never stops. “It’s a weird world,” she says. “A couple of weeks ago (I was) talking to some people, and they were like, ‘It’s all quiet now.’ And I’m like, ‘But is it?’ ”
Tay Wiles is a correspondent for High Country News and a freelance reporter. Email HCN at email@example.com.
From the High Country News (Luna Anna Archey):
Across the country, the outdoor recreation industry puts millions of people to work and boosts the economy by hundreds of billions of dollars. To cash in on some of that spending, many communities trumpet the recreation opportunities available to visitors, in the hopes that travelers will stay in local hotels, book local tours and dine at local restaurants.
But do recreation amenities lure new residents — who might bring even more economic benefits — as well as tourists? To find out, Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group, looked at where populations have grown or dwindled since 2010. They compared counties where the economy is closely tied to entertainment and seasonal visitors’ spending, or “recreation counties,” to counties with economies driven by other factors.
The number of people who moved to each type of county, and how much money they brought with them, was different at distinct levels of urbanization. Here are some of Headwaters’ results:
Statewide benefits in Montana
The vast majority of Montana’s 1 million residents — 87% — label themselves outdoor enthusiasts. They’re responsible for more than half of the $7.1 billion spent on outdoor activities in the state every year, including rafting or fishing the state’s nearly 170,000 miles of river. Residents and visitors alike are drawn by the natural assets of Big Sky Country: Montana’s booming recreation economy is built around the cornerstone of the 33.8 million acres of public land within its borders.
Even seemingly small recreation areas can have a big impact. The 42-mile Whitefish Trail, sections of which snake around ponds and lakes near the town of Whitefish, contributes $6.4 million to the economy every year. The trail system supports more than one job for every mile of its length, putting residents to work at local businesses like the Whitefish Bike Retreat, where visitors can rent bicycles, spend the night or arrange for a trail shuttle.
Local benefits in North Idaho
Rural Bonner County, in North Idaho, hosts about 660 miles of trails for biking, hiking, riding ATVs and other activities. The area has a robust recreation culture, which in turn supports gear shops, lodging, restaurants and guide services.
Luna Anna Archey is the associate photo editor at High Country News. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org