As revealed last week in a four-part Washington Post series detailing the veep's power, Cheney's bureaucratic meddling led directly to the West Coast's largest-ever fish kill when 77,000 Coho salmon perished on Southern Oregon's Klamath River in 2002.
But the Roguish root cause of this piscine Wounded Knee was closer to home. As the Post reported in a small piece of its series, it was Oregon's own former U.S. Rep. Bob Smith of Medford who turned Cheney's attention to our fair state.
A Republican, Smith represented Southern Oregon in the state's 2nd Congressional District from 1983-95 and 1997-99. Now a Medford-based D.C. lobbyist, his clients include the city of Medford and Oregon farmers.
In 2001, as the Northwest faced its worst drought in decades, federal scientists concluded that diverting Klamath River water to irrigate farms would harm protected fish. In stepped Smith, who served with Cheney in the 1980s on the House Interior Committee, to call in a chit to help his farmer clients.
Smith did not return a phone call from WW seeking comment. But he told the Post that Cheney "saw, as every other person did, what a ridiculous disaster shutting off the water was."
As reported in the Post, Cheney reached far down the chain of command at the Interior Department to twist the arms of low-ranking bureaucrats, who in turn prodded the National Academy of Sciences to reverse course. And, voilà, a month later, the academy issued a new report finding "no substantial scientific foundation" for cutting off water to the farms.
In March 2002, federal officials opened the irrigation head gates. The salmon kill devastated the local fishing industry, and the decision was later overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for violating the Endangered Species Act.
Quite a result, considering Smith told the Post he wasn't sure initially he'd find help in Washington for "a small place in a small corner of the country."