Property owners rally against 'land grab'
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:07 AM
"Belfair resident Merle Crain found much to relate to at the first-ever Shoreline Property Owners' Rally Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. But he quietly slipped out before the question-and-answer session commenced three hours later.In the meantime, the retired naval officer couldn't help but agree with the Kitsap property owners who gathered for the rally, a total of about 650 people. Most landowners seem frustrated with federal regulators - not lawmakers - who want to grab their land, presumably to save salmon habitat.That's really not the issue, Crain said, reflecting other landowners' concerns. Whether an individual property owner builds close or far away from the shoreline doesn't make much difference in the long run to salmon. It's the commercial nets that are causing the salmon problem.Crain argues there's a direct correlation between the abundance of commercial net fishing and dwindling salmon numbers in Kitsap County.Get rid of the nets, and the salmon will come back, he said. Otherwise, the county and other regulators are just spinning their wheels out here when talking about land-use policies and protecting salmon habitat.County Commissioner Chris Endresen, who has been instrumental in crafting the county's response to ESA regulations, defended the county's stance.We have to follow federal rules and regulations whether we like them or not, she said. Crain sympathized with county officials, but still agreed for the most part with James Buchal, the rally's keynote speaker and author of The Great Salmon Hoax. Buchal was less diplomatic in his approach to the topic.He told attendees that federal regulators, under the guise of protecting salmon and its habitat, are quickly and greedily grabbing up private property by the fistfuls, without any clear plans for compensation. We don't have a salmon problem, we have a government problem, Buchal said to an enthusiastic crowd in the Fairgrounds' President's Hall. Only looters and crooks don't pay for what they take.Buchal, like Crain, argued that individuals aren't killing salmon in the way they use their property, but fisherman certainly are.Let commercial fisherman raise their own salmon in pens, Buchal said. But leave property owners alone. Unless an individual dumps a hazardous substance into a waterway, the effect on salmon is miniscule.Buchal said the attitude among federal regulators and biologists that chinook salmon are at risk of extinction is absurd and completely false.We have salmon coming out of our ears, Buchal said, nearly shouting. There are (all kinds) of chinook salmon all over the world and, as a collective species, there's no way they will go away.The problem is, Buchal said, scientists studying salmon for government agencies are government scientists, paid for by the government. Inevitably, these biologists say that more government regulations are required to protect salmon. In addition to Buchal, the rally featured other speakers including state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-35th District; Tim Harrington, a radio talk-show personality with KITZ; as well as Dennis Reynolds and James Tracy, two land-use attorneys involved with ESA-related litigation.The rally was organized by local building and realtor organizations. Some of the equipment used at the meeting was provided by the Kitsap County Home Rule Committee. Crain, the retired naval officer who wanted to keep up with the county's goings on by attending the rally, agreed with many of the speakers who suggested they empower local public officials.Reynolds said, for instance, that landowners can affect change by not attacking public officials but rather by empowering them to stand up against federal regulators. "