Ranchers take envirofreaks to woodshed

Western Farm Press Editor Harry Cline’s commentary, “Whacked-out envirofreaks offer bizarre solution to save other life” (Feb. 20, 2010), shed light on the ridiculous antics of the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.-based environmental group.

Cline wrote about CBD offering free condoms to protect more superior animal species by reducing the second-class human population. This group’s lawsuit-happy actions to protect good fish bait include lawsuits where questionable wins force taxpayers to pad the group’s financial war chest.

Over the last decade Pima County ranchers Jim and Sue Chilton were wrongly attacked by the CBD. The group sued the U.S. Forest Service to end the Chilton’s grazing allotment. The group claimed the area was a habitat for the Sonora chub and the lesser long-nosed bat, and that the Chiltons mismanaged the land.

The CBD took pictures of bare ground on the Chilton’s allotment, alleging poor management and posted the photos on the CBD’s Web site. Jim Chilton says the photos were actually of a small camping spot for deer hunters. Several feet away healthy range grass stood 20 inches tall.

When Chilton saw a CBD news release in his local newspaper with even more allegations, the Chiltons decided enough was enough.

“These people do not like production agriculture,” Chilton told me. “I laid awake at night over all this. I said I’m not a wimp. I’m a cowboy; it’s time to cowboy up. I’m taking them on.”

The Chiltons filed a $100,000 defamation and libel lawsuit against the CBD. The U.S. Forest Service then conducted surveys on soil quality, riparian areas and grasses on the allotment. A world-renowned range scientist climbed every mountain on the ranch and found the Chiltons to be exemplary rangeland stewards and among the best ranchers in the Southwest.

The Chiltons pursued jury trials against the CBD. Over a three-week period, jurors heard testimony from many experts. They voted 10-0 and 9-1 in favor of the Chiltons. In addition to the $100,000 award, the court awarded the Chiltons $500,000 in punitive damages.

The CBD then filed an appeal with the Arizona District Court of Appeals. The court sided 3-0 with the Chiltons. CBD went to the Arizona Supreme Court. It refused to hear the case.

The CBD pondered taking the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. Then the most bizarre twist occurred. The CBD said it would drop the highest court challenge if Chilton paid the envirofreaks $35,000 to go away. Western Farm Press cannot print Jim Chilton’s response. These settlement deals are common, but seldom reported.

In the end, the Chiltons collected the $600,000. The ranching family paid out more in legal fees than it collected, but it was worth it, according to Jim, “They lied about a cowboy. By God, it was the best expenditure I’ve ever made.”

Justice is sweet, and the woodshed is still a good place for an attitude adjustment.

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