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Jarbidge: Local Access and Control

July 4th of 2000. Hundreds of activists armed with shovels flock to remote Northeastern Nevada to repair a rural road. Why? It all comes down to a question of control.

Remote pristine areas like Copper Canyon above the Jarbidge Wilderness in Northeastern Nevada are God's Country.

And while relatively few people can say they live on -- or really know this land -- there is a nationwide struggle afoot for control of it.

And nowhere is that more evident right now than in Elko County, Nevada.

Here county commissioners, community activists, environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service have locked horns over the future of a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of very rural roadway outside the town of Jarbidge.

It's about as remote a town as you can get to in Nevada. It sits at the edge of the Jarbidge Wilderness. Only about 20 people live here year round. But they are adamant about their lifestyle in their corner of the west. And they believe that over the years government agencies have eroded their rights, eliminated income sources, and are now encroaching on their access to land they depend on for survival of the town.

Dot Creechly photoDot Creechly: "There is no industry to speak of here. Just tourism, which is what that road is all about -- tourism. We need people, we need campgrounds, we need the access."
View the Creechly interview

Jo Zirkle photo

Jo Zirkle: "I pay my taxes, I want to use that road. That's all."
View the Zirkle interview


Bill Van Bruggen photoBill Van Bruggen: "I think that all over the west this is an issue now, particularly with local people who have been able to use roads historically for their various recreational pursuits, and I can understand their aggravation when a road they have used for years is suddenly cut off."
View Van Bruggen interview

South Canyon Road is an access road to the Trailhead for the Jarbidge Wilderness. It was washed out in a flood in 1995, and since then has been the center of a tug-of-war over who can use it, who can fix it, who controls it, and how they do it.

After 3 years of frustration over the lack of access the Shovel Brigade, comprised of hundreds of activists from all over the west, took to the project by hand. But the emergency of listing of the Bull Trout as endangered brought work to a stop for studies.

Don Evans photo

Don Evans: "They're just trying to do their job, but sometimes they just go overboard."
View the Evans interview


Gary Back is an ecologist who worked for the BLM for 5 years. He currently works as a consultant for the county, and he's searching for middle ground—not just for South Canyon road but for grazing, the bull trout, the sage grouse, and for general road closures on public lands.

Gary Back photoGary Back: "That has an impact on the local economy. And when you cut that out you impact their livelihood and that needs to be considered when these broad initiatives come down."
View Back interview

Bob Vaught photoBob Vaught: "I think it's very unfortunate. It's very small potatoes. It's a very remote area and I remain a little confused on the importance of this particular road."
View Vaught interview

Grant Gerber photo
Grant Gerber
: "So if you take that argument down, is Elko large enough for roads? Is Wells? Or should we just eliminate them near Jarbidge because it's a small town?"
View Gerber interview

Eric Herzik: "The small businessman rancher, mom and pop operation living on the land and trying to make a living on the land is virtually powerless! . . . And federal laws are geared to help lobby groups who work the halls of Congress."

Bob Vaught: "I don't think we need to do something to give them more of a voice . . . they have a voice. Any action we take is only taken with local input and we work closely with the locals."

Eric HerzikEric Herzik: "Their only recourse really is to make things even more sensational . . . to try and capture the public's imagination."
View Herzik interview

Which is exactly what Grant Gerber tried to do with this video as part of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a forerunner to 'The Shovel Brigade'.

"So don't get mad about what we do. We're buying all America just for you."

And the Shovel Brigade has staged its own dramas in organizing huge anti-government rallies, and even flying in wheelchair-bound-activists to make their point on access. Meantime the government has acted on behalf of Americans as a whole, a challenging balancing act at best.

Eric Herzik: "If you take this virtual representation of the people of the U.S as a whole -- an urban environmentalist from Las Vegas has just as much say about the use of the land. And the actual representation of those living on the land is lost."

Bob Vaught: "In my career, I've found in all cases -- and in fact Jarbidge is the only exception -- we are always able to work out our differences and find the answers that are for the good of the forest as a whole and for local use."

South Canyon Road is as controversial as it is remote. But like so many areas in the west, for those who live on the land it represents a symbolic struggle for control.

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