News

THE PLEASANT VALLEY WAR: PART IITHEY'RE SERIOUS ABOUT THEIR BATTLES UP IN THESE PARTS

Page 2 of 3

However, Jo Ann Graham thinks the forest service has bungled the investigation. And she thinks it's absurd that the main thing they've been able to catch so far is her son's FFA tractor.

Graham is a realtor (although she started her career studying journalism because she wanted to be a foreign-war correspondent), so she spends a lot of time driving around the local countryside, and she says she's been run off the road twice by out-of-town trucks carrying large loads of wood. When she and other residents reported incidents such as these to the forest service, they felt they were blown off. Pleasant Valley ranger Soeth says that they followed through on all residents' complaints that were accurate and complete. "We can't stop somebody just because they have a white truck," he says. "There's a lot of stuff that goes on that we can't tell the public about. We followed through."

When the investigation concluded with Friday's indictments, Young was in an uproar, especially over the indictment of their beloved deputy Hamilton. "He wouldn't steal a wooden nickel," says one resident. Others think he was an unwitting accomplice, or think he was driven into it, trying to supplement his meager county sheriff salary enough to support his wife and three kids. But others, like Jo Ann Graham and Hamilton's wife Susie, think Hamilton and the others are being prosecuted as a diversionary tactic to cover up other problems in the forest service, big problems: the problems being raised by Angus McIntosh. No one has any concrete evidence, but as Susie Hamilton says, "It's come up at a nice, convenient time--what they've indicted my husband on is so wacky that it must be a smoke screen."

Angus McIntosh is a forest ranger from Young who invoked the Whistle-blower's Act last year to charge his employer with disrespecting ranchers' rights. According to McIntosh, the forest service has a policy of discouraging ranchers from claiming the water rights to which they're entitled, and then coming along behind and claiming the water rights for the forest service. Whenever both an individual rancher and the forest service apply for the same rights, the service has an agreement with the Water Resources department that it will automatically give the disputed rights to the forest service. McIntosh began researching and explaining to ranchers the ins and outs of water rights and grazing rights laws. When his boss asked him to put a cap on it, McIntosh blew the whistle.

Once disclosed, this heated up fast and quick, with the local paper prophesying: "The issues involved are larger than Angus, Jim Soeth, me or Pleasant Valley, and certainly larger than this one-horse newspaper. What we contend, my friends, is a war upon our God-given rights as citizens under the Constitution of the United States."

What you have to understand is, Young is ranching territory. Was in the days of the cattle-rustling Grahams and Tewksburys, still is today. A local paper is called the Roundup, and every year the Young girls dream of becoming the Stampede Queen.

The rancher and the rangers have never been buddies. As soon as the Pleasant Valley lands were designated national forest by Theodore Roosevelt back in 1905, it meant that control of the range was moved from the cattlemen to the federal foresters, and harmony has never reigned since.

"The forest service has a history of being uncooperative with ranchers," says Carolyn Dryer, editor of the Payson Roundup. "If a rancher expects to keep his allotment, he better do what they tell them." So strong is local animosity that the Young paper the Pleasant Valley News and Views pronounced the Game and Fish department, the EPA, the forest service, and the Board of Land Management as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse, galloping through Pleasant Valley shouting, "We are the government! . . . There are no rights but those which we allow! It's the law!"

So when former Marine Angus McIntosh began telling cattlemen that they might have more rights under law than the forest service was allowing, he became an instant hero. The results of McIntosh's allegations are yet to be seen as he enlists cattlemen and congressmen to his cause. However, McIntosh is feeling the immediate result of his whistle-blowing. He's been transferred to the Payson district, keeping him away from his wife and baby daughter five days out of seven. He thinks he'll probably get fired before all this is over. However, another result is that he's being written up in cattlemen's magazines all over the country and last Saturday was given an award by the National Federal Lands Conference, a rancher and landowner group, for "strong leadership in the battle to protect and enhance the constitutional rights to private property."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ann Walton Sieber