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August 9, 2013
Editorial: Field hearing on amphibians was a stacked deck

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(Aug. 9 -- By the Editorial Board)

It's completely reasonable for rural residents and elected leaders to have concerns and questions about the proposed listing of two yellow-legged frog species and the Yosemite toad under the Endangered Species Act.

But the public forum organized by U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock this week wasn't anything close to an even-handed look at this issue. It was a stacked hearing - part of a coordinated campaign to rile up rural Californians against the federal government and environmental protections in general.

At the public forum held Tuesday in Sonora, Republican representatives Devin Nunes and McClintock sat in front of a six-person panel to pick apart a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proposal would classify the amphibian species under the Endangered Species Act and would designate 1.8 million acres of primarily federal lands as "critical habitat," or land vital to the species' survival.

Setting the tone for the meeting, Nunes decried the Endangered Species Act as an "assault" on freedom and McClintock declared the evidence cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service "junk science," and endangered species listings as "destructive" to the environment.

With the exception of a single Fish and Wildlife official, all the panelists - a collection of local government officials and community members - condemned the proposal, making overblown predictions about its local impacts.

Much of the opposition to amphibian protections is being whipped up by a Siskiyou County group, Defend Rural America, a hotbed of anti-government paranoia and hyperbole.

The group claims on its website that the Endangered Species Act is "used to destroy more of our rights, lands, and resources that any weapons of mass destruction an external enemy could deliver." Its leader is Kirk MacKenzie, who has gone so far as to suggest that the Sacramento "Next Economy" project, organized by business and community groups, is part of some vast conspiracy to usurp the authority of rural counties.

MacKenzie was at McClintock's field hearing, but refused to answer questions when approached. Also at the hearing were a number of elected public officials, including El Dorado County Sheriff John D'Agostini, who has devoted substantial time to criticizing the amphibian proposal as El Dorado's top law enforcement officer. D'Agostini said he made the drive from El Dorado County because "part of my job is keeping up with what's going on."

Rural counties across California face a range of challenges - economic development, health care, education, job training and scourges of meth and alcohol abuse.

Yet instead of confronting these challenges, politicians such as McClintock and Nunes - and groups such as Defend Rural America - attempt to mislead residents into thinking the federal government is the source of all their troubles. It's a cynical campaign, and elected leaders from rural areas who recognize it as such need to speak out against it.

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