A Private Property Rights Battle in Six Rivers National Forest

Back-to-the-landers Bill and Janet Rogers battle the U.S. Forest Service over land that the couple owns within Six Rivers National Forest, California, which is managed by the government.

| July/August 1990

  • 124-024-01
    The showdown with the Feds took place at the Rogers's gate and was videotaped.

  • 124-024-01

San Francisco, CA—The two citizens had to look up to talk to the judge in his midnight robes on the dais above them. They, like the judge, had dressed in character. The man wore a blue denim fleece-lined jacket, tan chinos, calf-high boots; his wife a tan skirt, open-collared shirt and low-heeled shoes. The U.S. District Court loomed around them, 19 floors above Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco.

One might suppose the setting would shrink them—and if not the setting, the task they'd set for themselves: Alone, without a lawyer or even a friend who could afford to come down from the woods to stand beside them on this day in March, they were suing the government of the United States of America to force it to let them cultivate a garden, drink the water and live in peace on 160 acres of their own land—in short, to allow them their property rights.

They didn't shrink a bit as they asked this latest of the judges they'd faced to shift the weight of the system to their side. Bill Rogers stands five feet ten; Janet Rogers almost as tall. They talked rapidly, urgently, observing the forms ("If it please Your Honor…with your permission…"). Judge Thelton E. Henderson returned their courtesy. He promised he'd review their file and issue orders concerning procedure—were they in the right federal district, should they be in federal court at all and so forth. They thanked him and left, allowing themselves a moment of hope even though every government procedure they'd encountered in the past decade adds to Bill Rogers's bitter conclusion: "We're living the American Dream in reverse."

Part of the problem is that the U.S. Forest Service has the Rogerses surrounded. In March 1977, they bought their 160 acres, knowing it was within the Six Rivers National Forest in far northern California, but not knowing the events that lay ahead. They maintain that the Forest Service has been pointedly harassing them and thousands of other "inholders" across the nation—people who own property inside areas managed by the government—in order to discourage them, set up "precondemnation blight" and force them off their land. Whether or not anyone can prove the Feds are that well-coordinated or are molesting that many people in such ways, the Rogerses tell a tale that suggests frontier justice is still a fact of life in the remote areas of modern America.

Jan and Bill went to high school in Los Angeles in the '60s. Even as teenagers they knew what they wanted. "We were living in the wrong place," Jan says. To their parents' dismay, they opened a joint bank account to save up for a piece of land closer to wilderness.

They found it in the rugged, sparsely populated northwestern tip of California. First stop was a house in Zenia, population five. From there they scouted out the dream property they eventually bought in 1977. It sits at 4,000 feet on a ridgetop known as Little Round Mountain, half forested with oaks and firs, half meadowland. The nearest neighbors live more than two miles away.


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