April 8, 2005

OUR OPINION: Every day is court day for some 'environmentalists'

Steve Williams
Victorville Daily Press - Victorville, CA

The Center for Biological Diversity, which likes to call itself an environmentalist organization, isn't. It's a litigious society bent on eliminating private property rights in America through intimidation by the courts. The environmental movement is only its cat's paw, but one which it has used with amazing success, first because it rarely encounters more than token resistance to its legal forays, and second, because most Americans are "environmentalists" in the sense that they enjoy the beauty of natural vistas and believe in the preservation of the wild.

The Center counts on both these things when it attacks such groups as hunters, off-road enthusiasts, farmers, loggers, miners, oil companies, ranchers ... it's a long list.

On occasion, though, the intended victim bites back with success. That happened last January in Tuscon, Ariz., where a jury found the Center for Biological Diversity's Tuscon branch guilty of making "false, unfair, libelous and defamatory statements" against Jim Chilton, a Southern Arizona rancher. The Tucson jury awarded Chilton $100,000 in actual damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages from the Center for defaming him and his family business.

It all started with a two-page press release and 21 photographs posted by the Center on its Web site in July 2002 regarding Chilton's 21,500-acre Montana grazing Allotment northwest of Nogales. The suit was filed, according to Chilton, because he wanted to challenge the way the Center for Biological Diversity does business. "They don't use science, they use scare tactics," he told the Nogales International newspaper. "They also use endangered species as surrogates to obtain their own goals and to raise money."

The Center had published its material to block renewal of Chilton's grazing permit, and the jury agreed with Chilton's claim that the Center did make false statements in it, and that misleading photographs were used.

This all comes to mind because of the Center's most recent resort to the courts to get its way, this time to eliminate "guzzlers" in the Mojave Preserve. Two letters today note that a lawsuit filed by the Center in March apparently caused the National Park Service to withdraw its approval of a plan to establish artificial watering sources in the Mojave National Preserve. Intimidation via the courts caused the Park Service to reverse itself. So what's new?

Chilton is one of those rare public birds who refused to be intimidated. He's a fifth-generation rancher, and when a reporter for the Nogales paper asked after the jury came in if ranchers and environmental activists did not have a common interest in conserving the environment, he said, "Cattle have been grazing on the Montana Allotment for 300 years. We (ranchers) have to maintain the land so grazing can be sustainable for the next few centuries." And added, "I, too, consider myself an environmentalist. Because every day is Earth Day for me."

Unlike the Center, for which every day seems to be court day.

You might remember all this when "environmentalist" groups such as the Sierra Club file suit to prevent the public from improving its roads. Measure I comes to mind.