A Victory For Verl 

Verl Jones has got to be smiling to himself about now. It's just

sad he can only be here in spirit to celebrate a true moment of

jurisprudence sanity returning to our state.

Verl, a lifelong Challis resident, and his family own a small

ranch. Since 1961 they had used a legal Idaho water right to divert water

from a small creek to irrigate alfalfa fields were they grew hay to feed

their livestock.

In December 2000 the activist Idaho Watersheds Project crew, headed

by Jon Marvel, sued the Jones family claiming - without a single shred of

evidence - they were violating the ESA because diverting water was killing

bull trout. Let me restate that again for emphasis: claiming - without a

single shred of evidence - that bull trout were being killed.

The Jones family, plus a longtime ranch hand, testified that there

had never been a bull trout killed or even injured in the 40 years they had

been diverting water. They rightfully concluded that the real motive behind

the case was to financially drive them off their land.

Incredibly, a Federal judge ignored their first hand rebuttal

testimony and issued an injunction ordering the ranching family to stop

diverting water. For the past three years the Jones family has been forced

to buy about 100 tons of hay every year to make up for the loss while they

appealed the obviously logic-challenged judicial ruling.

On April 25 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District

Court's decision ruling environmental activists cannot use the Endangered

Species Act (ESA) as a weapon unless they can first actually prove something

is harming a species. The Ninth Circuit judges rightfully decided that

courts cannot simply accept at face value claims by environmental extremists

that harm to a species is being done. The Court sent the case back for

trial so that evidence, or lack of evidence, can be evaluated.

The ruling finally sets an critically important bar to be cleared

when enviros try to use the ESA as an unrestricted hammer against Idahoans:

they must prove harm is being done before an injunction can be issued. The

ruling also notes that if there is no evidence a species has been harmed in

the past then it probably means it won't be harmed by the same situation in

the future.

Verl Jones died in November 2003 so he never got the chance to see

his common sense vindicated. But the victory over out of control

environmental extremists is a true legacy of which his family and Idahoans

everywhere can be proud.

Norm Semanko is Executive Director, Idaho Water Users Association

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