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More West Coast Wars

"Stop the War on the West," is the battle cry, not just on the West Coast of New Zealand, but now on the West Coast of the US. John Howard reports.

More than 3,000 people brandishing shovels have taken to the streets in the small Nevada town of Elko, protesting over federal regulations which prevents them from repairing a washed-out road on government land.

The residents want to rebuild a dirt road along the Jarbridge River in the Humboldt-Toiyabe national forest, but the US Forest Service says it may harm the river's bull trout population.

The 3,000 protesters lined the street with shovels, and American flags and children waved plastic sandbox shovels. 10,000 shovels had been sent to Elko by supporters from as far away as Rhode Island and Maryland.

"Most people understand shovels are a symbol of work. That's something we all have in common - we want to work," said Cary Hegreberg of Helena, Montana.

Two hundred horse-drawn wagons, makeshift floats, ATV's motorcycles, snowmobiles and pickup trucks loaded with shovels paraded down Elko's main street to rally at the County courthouse.

Elko County Commissioner Mike Nannini, who helped organise the parade said the shovels had mostly arrived by mail. The County Commission claims the Forest Service has no jurisdiction over the area because the road existed before the Humboldt National Forest was established.

It's a grassroots reaction, it's just not the West anymore," he said.

The disputed road, a 2km dirt stretch, connects to a trailhead for a wilderness path and provides vehicle access to fishing and camping on the river.

The controversy has prompted a congressional field hearing and has become a lightening road for criticism of President Clinton's proposals to "lock-down" areas in national forests.

Nevada Governor, Kenny Guinn, has offered his support for the protesters.

"Since the vast majority of the public lands are in the West, perhaps the bureaucrats in Washington DC simply don't understand the impact their decisions have on the western way of life," he said.

One of the protesters was Bob Secrist from Elko who said "I'm in the forewood business and the Forest Service is giving me a bad time. They are supposed to properly manage the forest but they are just shutting it down and locking it up."

"The President wants to make everything roadless. That's fine for people in Kansas, but 85 percent of our land is controlled by the government in Nevada. We're expected to make a living on the other 15 percent," he said.

New Zealand's West Coasters are seeing direct parallels with their predicament and are to make contact through the Internet with the people in Elko.


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