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CALL TO ACTION: Stop the Fence at Tule Lake

Tule Lake Segregation Center inmates on the firebreak road that is now the airstrip. This photo, labeled “Jap trouble,” was taken by a member of the 752nd Battalion, which occupied Tule Lake after a disturbance in November 1943 led to martial law. Soldiers patrolling in armored cars regarded any gathering of “Japs” as cause for alarm. (Courtesy Greg Williams, CSU Dominguez Hills Archives/Special Collections)

This is a call to action from the Tule Lake Committee, asking you to ACT to help save the historic Tule Lake concentration camp and segregation center site from destruction.

The Tule Lake concentration camp is located in Modoc County in Northern California, and is recognized as the infamous segregation center where Japanese Americans who protested the mass incarceration were punished for speaking out.

Satsuki Ina, who was born in Tule Lake, wrote: “I need your help because the Federal Aviation Administration is proposing construction of an eight-foot-high, three-mile-long fence around the perimeter of the airport that will cut off our access to the Tule Lake site. Besides being utterly unnecessary in such a desolate place, such a fence would desecrate the physical and spiritual aspects of Tule Lake, which has great historical and personal importance to me and many others.

“I am shocked by this insensitive and disrespectful plan. This massive fence will interfere with the desire I and visitors to Tule Lake have — to mourn the unjust imprisonment and to heal the scars of the past. Instead, we will be assaulted with a reminder of rejection, exclusion, and emotional pain.”

Modoc County recently sent out notices requesting public comment on the airport fence they sought to construct over the past decade, to close off the airport that occupies two-thirds of the concentration camp site. In July 2014, the Tule Lake Committee filed a lawsuit seeking Modoc County’s compliance with environmental laws, and for the past three years, was engaged in discussions about the airport with Modoc County, including settling the lawsuit.

However, Modoc County’s recent Notices of Public Scoping and requests for comment indicate that the county has unilaterally abandoned settlement discussions and begun planning to build the fence.

It is critically important that community members and organizations respond now to Modoc County’s request for comments about this destructive fence proposal for the Tulelake Airport. The deadline for comments, by letter or email, ends in less than a month, on Oct. 10, 2017 at 5 p.m. The public notices are posted at:

Please send your comments to Mitch Crosby, Modoc County Road Commissioner, 202 West 4th St., Alturas, CA 96101, or email

Those sending comments by email must put “Tulelake Airport Perimeter Fence Project” in the subject line. Also, the commenter’s name and physical address should be included in the message.

The Issues

Modoc County approved a five-year, $3.5 million airport development plan that includes a massive, three-mile-long, barbed-wire-topped, eight-foot-high fence. Having an airport, even a small and primitive airport, operating in the middle of this concentration camp site is inappropriate and demeans the memory of more than 24,000 people who were incarcerated in Tule Lake.

The proposed fence closes off remembrance of this civil and human rights tragedy, and it will destroy the integrity of this unique historic site. The fence will eliminate opportunities for Japanese Americans and others to visit, reflect and mourn. This exclusion will be a permanent legacy of Modoc County’s and the FAA’s failure to comprehend the traumatic injustice created by the racism, fed by wartime greed and hysteria and failed political leadership, that led to the mass incarceration.

The Tule Lake site has not yet been comprehensively surveyed to document surface and subsurface historic WWII resources. Consequently, it is a priority to identify structures and artifacts before more damage to the site takes place.

In July 2014, the Tule Lake Committee sought legally mandated environmental review of the entire airport area, which occupies two-thirds of the former Tule Lake site. However, instead of conducting careful examination of the entire area WITHIN the fence project, including subsurface review, the county and the FAA have argued their environmental responsibility is confined to surveying only a narrow strip of land where the three-mile-long fence would directly lie.

Lorna Fong, whose mother was held at Tule Lake, outside the fence surrounding the camp jail, which is being preserved but is currently not open to visitors. (Photo by Dorey Nomiyama)

Although the issue of safety from wildlife strikes is the rationale for a massive airport fence, in the history of the airport’s operation, there were no reported complaints of wildlife or wildlife strikes. In fact, the greatest threat to airport safety at the Tulelake airport is caused by birds. The FAA reports that 97 percent of aviation encounters nationally are caused by birds, a problem that is heightened by the location of the Tulelake Airport.

The recently commissioned wildlife hazard study noted the problem: “Since the airport is located between two national wildlife refuges and is virtually surrounded by irrigated agricultural lands, all which attract birds, a wide variety of bird species forage and cross the airport. The irrigation ditches and canals which border the airport on three sides attract water fowl and flocking birds. Without installing sophisticated bird mitigation measures or implementing on-airport management techniques, there is little to be done to reduce the potential bird strike hazard.”

A fence will do nothing to protect crop-dusting planes from collisions with birds. The county’s announcement also stated that the airport is a pathway for mule deer. Modoc County’s wildlife hazard survey did not make such a finding. It did, however, show that one deer was spotted at the airport, plus 53 rabbits, dogs and squirrels. The far greater danger identified in the Tulelake Airport survey was 3,172 individual birds and flocks of birds on or near the runway.

In the past year, the Tule Lake Committee participated in talks with Modoc County, the FAA, other state and federal agencies and local representatives, hoping to promote understanding of the historic site’s significance, urging it be protected, not destroyed. Seeking a long-term solution to the problem of preserving an irreplaceable historic site, we raised the issue of moving the Tulelake Airport to a less sensitive nearby location. It was clear to all interested parties that a small airport can be moved. It is not possible to move a historic site.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi, playwright/poet and Tule Lake survivor, wrote: “It seems like we’ve lived with a fence all our lives, beginning at Arboga Prison and then at Tule Lake Concentration Camp. I mean a barbed-wire fence with guard towers and searchlights at night and sentries with guns that could explode in our faces.

“Then after we were released from Tule Lake, there was a symbolic fence, an imaginary one, to ward off the disdain and contempt of those in our own community toward us because we were confined at Tule Lake Segregation Center as ‘disloyals’ and ‘troublemakers.’

“Now, yet another fence at Tule Lake. This time a real one to cut off access to the camp site, the source of our painful memory, a sacred place we return to again and again for remembrance, for solace, for healing.

“We cannot let this happen. We cannot let them hang this fence around us forever and ever. We just cannot. We must stop it.”

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