This week a young rancher in Wyoming, Andy Johnson, won a battle for private property rights against one of the bureaucratic entities that strikes fear in the hearts of farmers and ranchers nationwide, the Environmental Protection Agency.
Johnson fought back against a mandate from the EPA to dismantle a pond that he had built on his own land with the required state permits. Fines totaling $16 million were imposed before they were finally overturned in the wake of his court victory.
As I read about his ordeal I thought back through the years that I have managed our small family farm and the many times we have been harassed by government busy-bodies who thought it was in their purview to question us, investigate us, intrude on us, and regulate us.
A few years ago we received a notice that there was suspicious material piled behind our commercial poultry houses that looked like it may be illegally piled manure. Airplane surveillance photos showed large piles of material and had to be investigated by the powers-that-be. We got a letter informing us that inspectors would be coming on our farm and we could not refuse to extend our hospitality to them. We complied and they discovered, as we had told them, it was piles of dirt. Our sons were practicing moving dirt with the new front-end loader. After having gained entrance to our property they insisted on being granted complete access to every part of the farm even though there were no violations.
I looked outside one day to see two men that I did not recognize poking around our barn area. I watched them for a few minutes then went outside to question what they were doing. They informed me they were from the SPCA and had received an anonymous tip that someone in the area had a horse that was limping and it might be us. I told them there was none that I was aware of but they could look at the horses if they wished. They inspected the horses and found nothing wrong.
I asked who had made the complaint but was denied the information citing the privacy right of the tipster. I quoted the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and my right to be secure from unreasonable searches. Needless to say, that did not go over well and the investigators began to look for other things that could be violations of animal welfare since I dared to question their authority. I asked again who made the complaint that instigated their investigation and they told me that I could never know unless I was charged with something and went to court. I demanded that they charge me so I could have my day in court but they refused since they could find no violations, but not before threatening my property. These men demanded my vet records, which by law they had no right to access. It did not matter, they were the voice of government authority and I had to comply...or else.
Then there were the squirrel counters. The state authorities thought it was a good idea to send officials through our woods to count fox squirrels to see if they may be endangered. This time, at least they asked, and we denied them access. If they had found these, who knows if we would have been barred from using our own land for fear we may upset their habitat. There would have been no compensation for the loss of the use of our property, just squirrels we could watch playing in the trees.
The Environmental Protection Agency had a brilliant idea several years ago that they would hold every commercial poultry farmer hostage by trying to coerce us into paying them huge amounts of money to not prosecute us IF they ever found some trace amounts of ammonia from our ventilation fans and IF it was ever found to be detrimental to the environment. There was such an outcry from us that they backed off that mob-like tactic and all has been quiet on that front for a while now.
I regularly receive official mail from government agencies that demand my obedience in answering their surveys or sending in ridiculous paperwork to comply with some new scheme of regulators who are paid to ...well, regulate. There was the survey about our woodlands. Many of the questions had nothing to do with trees, but they were very interested in our opinion about global warming, services and our financial status. I was commanded to answer promptly or I could be fined or imprisoned. I did respond-with the words “REFUSE TO ANSWER” written across the questionnaire bold letters. I never heard any more about it.
We have an on-farm generator and once I received a notice that I would have to send the state authorities records of every time the generator ran, how much fuel it used, what kind of fuel, where the fuel was purchased, when the last service on the generator was performed, and on and on and on...I sent a notice back to them letting them know I would not be complying and if they felt it necessary to arrest me for my defiance they could explain to the public why a grandmother was in jail for refusing to fill out this unnecessary government paperwork.
The most interesting government paperwork initiative thrown at us was from Homeland Security. Farmers were informed that due to the increased terrorist threats every farm that had gas tanks had to fill out about 20 hours of paperwork yearly because these gas tanks could be potential terrorist targets. Yes, propane tanks sitting in the middle of no where with about 6 people in the vicinity might be a tempting target and our piles of paperwork would deter determined madmen. Everyone refused to comply and again the matter was dropped.
If someone has never lived this bureaucratic nightmare just trying to make a living for your family and produce good food for our fellow citizens they have no idea what goes on in the name of the nanny state. As you can see, victory is possible but it will take regular Americans fearlessly facing down the government bullies and saying “This far and no more”.