Interior Bernhardt tours Midland field of crosses
MIDLAND — Backdropped by a dusty field filled with white crosses
representing lost farms, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt
chatted casually with Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers and
their families Thursday afternoon, vowing to chart a path
towards a solution to water conflicts in the Klamath Basin.
Bernhardt was joined by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman, Congressmen Greg Walden (R-OR) and Doug LaMalfa
(R-California), and other top water officials in the field that
hosted the “Shut Down Fed Up” rally held on May 29. The rally
that drew more than 4,000 people, following a tractor and
vehicle convoy that spanned more than 29 miles between Merrill
and Klamath Falls, also drew national attention across the miles
from Bernhardt and other top federal officials.
With Bernhardt and officials nearby, one of the rally
co-organizers Bob Gasser held up a photograph of the rally for
all to see.
He pointed out that the photograph was signed by President
Donald Trump on Air Force One.
“The Secretary of the Interior is the man who can make the
biggest difference in this Basin,” Gasser said, noting he had no
idea that the secretary would come to the Basin so soon
following the rally.
“Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to our small part of the
country,” Gasser added, turning to face Bernhardt. “We may be
small, but we’ve got a heart for this nation.”
Gasser said Bernhardt is responsible for returning the Project
to receive 140,000 acre feet of irrigation water.
“He saved this community … even though there are still a lot of
farmers out there who have no water. There’s a lot of hurt still
going on, but if he wouldn’t have done what he did, it really
would’ve been horrific because a lot of investments were made
planning on the (140,000 acre feet) … millions of dollars
would’ve been lost and a lot of growers would’ve been lost.”
The visit by the top officials was the first by both a
Reclamation Commissioner and Secretary of Interior at the same
time, and the first by a sitting Interior secretary since 2002.
Following the tractor rally and convoy in late May, Bernhardt
and Walden rode together on Air Force One where Walden showed
Bernhardt photographs of the rally and convoy. They were joined
briefly on the flight by President Donald Trump, who signed a
photograph of the rally for Walden.
Bernhardt learned firsthand from Walden of the scenario faced by
Klamath Project farmers and ranchers and the high possibility
that they would receive 80,000 acre feet of water or less,
compared with the 140,000 acre feet they were promised on April
Walden and LaMalfa urged Bernhardt to consider making a visit to
“Sometimes it’s important for us to evaluate the situation for
ourselves and then try and drive change and that’s what we’re
going to try and do,” Bernhardt told attendees of the
“It’s very different when you’re able to see things,” Bernhardt
later told reporters. “In my old life, I was a lawyer and I was
much more comfortable if I had an issue if I had walked the
ground and understood it. It gives you a different perspective
when you come here. It’s pretty easy to sit in a desk in D.C.
and say what you think … This has been very helpful.”
Bernhardt earlier in the day visited with the Klamath Tribes and
U.S. Fish and Wildlife and expressed that they were great
conversations. He talked of plans to return to Washington, D.C.,
with new information to share amongst the Department of
“We need to find a way within the law to make this situation
work,” Burman said.
Bernhardt said there are some specific things that the
department hasn’t looked at for a number of years that can be
reassessed. He was wary of sharing specifics until that occurs.
“I don’t announce what we’re doing until I believe that it’s
implementable because people for years have come out to places
and given them pie in the sky and 10 years later, it’s exactly
in the same place,” Bernhardt said. “I do not do that... We have
to come out, understand the situation, go back, think about it,
come back, and say, ‘Here’s what we can do, and here’s what we
can’t do, and some of the ‘can’t do,’ people won’t like, but
this president is very clear that, ‘Look, you figure it out.' …
You make a decision. You don’t put people in a mode of waiting
year after year for nothing. We don’t do that.”
When asked about the Coalition of the Willing, a group of
multiple stakeholders that have been meeting with and separately
from Interior’s Alan Mikkelsen, Bernhardt wouldn’t talk
specifics but said the coalition came up in conversations held
When asked if the coalition will play a role in finding a
long-term for water in the Basin, he said, “It all plays a
Farmers share appreciation
Scott Seus, a Tulelake farmer and co-organizer of the rally,
shared praise for Bernhardt, Burman, Walden, and LaMalfa for
“It’s a shame you have to be here in the Basin,” Seus said to
Bernhardt, “but we’re proud to have you here today.
“We’re not asking for a handout here. We are asking for help to
continue this generation of farming.”
Seus also explained the events that immediately followed the May
29 “Shut down and fed up” rally — another rally to protest the
closure of churches due to COVID-19 on Mon May 30 and a rumors
of individuals representing Antifa infiltrating the town, which
turned out to be a Black Lives Matter protest, on May 31, on May
“We got drowned out by a Black Lives Matter protest,” Seus said.
Seus said the rally and convoy was a community effort to not be
forgotten, adding that the presence of Bernhardt and federal
officials in Klamath Falls shows President Trump’s
administration hasn’t forgotten irrigators.
“The fact that you’re here today says, ‘We’re not going to be
forgotten, not by this administration,'” Seus said.
Walden and LaMalfa praised Bernhardt and Burman for their visit.
“We’re going to be okay for 2020 and look forward to how we can
make things even better in 2021,” LaMalfa told attendees on
With only months more in office before his retirement, Walden
shared his continued commitment to work towards a long-term
water solution in the Basin.
“It’s time for a reset and I believe that more firmly now than
ever,” Walden told individuals who gathered at the field.
“Let’s face it — the plans and policies that have been in place,
they haven’t worked for the suckers. They haven’t worked for the
salmon, and they sure as heck aren’t working for farmers.
There’s a place here where we have to find common ground but we
have to start with science and data that makes sense. We have to
study what’s worked and not worked and come up with a new plan.
“The president believes in results and that’s what we have to
do,” Walden added.
Gasser said he wasn’t expecting the visit by the top officials
so soon following the rally.
“All I was hoping for was some more water as the Summer went
on,” Gasser said.
“It’s exciting because they’re taking this serious. The
commissioner and secretary here is just unheard of ... He didn’t
say what the fix is but they’ve been working on things for quite
a while. And it’s not going to be against any particular group
because we did not ask for that. We want to do better for the
fish and for the farmers.
“That’s the exciting part,” Gasser added. “It shouldn’t be us
versus them right now. It should be, ‘Let’s all get together and
make this thing work better.'”
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