Ranchers fume as ‘Rainbow Family’ set to camp on
federal land in Oregon
Allowing thousands of
make-shift campers on sensitive habitat doesn’t sit well
with ranchers who must follow strict grazing rules.
The U.S. Forest Service acknowledged there isn’t much it can do
about a “Rainbow Family” gathering expected to bring thousands
of counter-culture types to the Malheur National Forest in
Eastern Oregon over the next two weeks.
The organizers don’t have a permit, and the Forest Service’s
response to that has angered area residents such as rancher
Loren Stout, who lives near the gathering spot and has a federal
grazing permit on land adjacent to it.
He said the Forest Service would punish ranchers if they ignored
permit requirements and tapped a spring for drinking water like
the Rainbow Family has done. Stout said it took him two years to
get a National Environmental Policy Act permit to drill an
exploratory mining hole.
“People are furious over this,” Stout said. “Not because it’s a
friggin’ bunch of hippies, it’s the different standards.”
An estimated 500 to 700 people have already set up camp at
Flagtail Meadow off of Forest Road 24, near the towns of Seneca
and John Day. The 46th annual National Rainbow Gathering could
draw 15,000 to 20,000 July 1-7, and is being held without a
permit required of anyone else who would want to stage such an
event on federal forest land.
Ryan Nehl, deputy Forest Service supervisor on the Malheur and
the agency administrator for the event, planned to take a permit
form to organizers at the gathering spot June 21.
“I don’t have a lot of faith they will sign it,” Nehl said. In
that case, the Forest Service will impose an operational plan
for the gathering to follow, and could take action if those
conditions are violated.
But Nehl said the Forest Service will not attempt to stop the
“It’s a risk-based decision,” he said. “To try and kick them off
the land would present a danger to employees and the public.”
The event is put on by the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a
loosely-organized group that annually picks a spot for its
gathering and invites like-minded people to attend for multiple
days of music, camping, dancing and communal hanging out. The
gatherings have been held since the 1970s.
On a Facebook page set up for this year’s event https://www.facebook.com/groups/246284825703234/,
one person posted, “If we were in control we would all have free
energy, everyone would be housed and fed and we’d be having song
circles every day.”
“What is the pants policy at this event?” another poster asked.
He was assured that nudity should be expected.
In other postings, people urged fellow “family” members not to
upset locals by panhandling or “gas jugging,” meaning to beg for
gasoline. Others caution against “spanging,” a slang reference
to asking for spare change. A stabbing among Rainbow members
during a meeting in the Umatilla National Forest earlier in June
has area residents worried about what the larger gathering will
A community meeting was scheduled June 23, in John Day to let
residents ask questions of Forest Service and law enforcement
personnel. The meeting is from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the
Juniper Hall Conference Room of the Malheur National Forest
Headquarters, 431 Patterson Bridge Road.
The Forest Service mobilized an incident command team that
includes 30 agency law enforcement officers from around the
country, and has marked areas such as creeks that campers should
stay out of. Oregon State Police, BLM officers, Grant County
sheriff’s deputies and John Day police are available to help the
incident team, Nehl said.
Meanwhile, rancher Stout said the Forest Service is “trying to
put grazers out of business” but lets the Rainbow bunch do what
they want. He said the gathering spot is a major Native American
archaeological site and the area has eight springs that could be
He said the “takeover of federal ground” is no different than
the Bundy group’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife
Refuge headquarters. “I hate to say that,” Stout said.
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