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.

April 6, 2005


Facing a Lawsuit, Agency Withdraws Its Okay for Artificial Watering in Desert Park

Press Release:

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) & Center For Biological Diversity

Washington, DC — The National Park Service has abruptly reversed course and blocked installation of artificial water systems in California’s Mojave National Preserve, according to a letter from the park superintendent released today by Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Biological Diversity. Last month the two groups filed a federal lawsuit to stop the artificial watering plan on the grounds that it harmed native wildlife and violated Park Service policy.

Yesterday, on April 5, 2005, Mary Martin, Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, sent a letter to the California Department of Fish and Game, which stated:

“[T]he National Park Service is withdrawing the approval, set forth in our letter of January 21, 2005, for the California Department of Fish and Game to convert four ranching well developments in Mojave National Preserve into wildlife watering devices…Upon further review, the National Park Service has determined that additional NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] compliance is desirable before a decision is made…”

Ironically, the position taken by Martin this week reflects the same stance that she had communicated in a June 17, 2002 memo to Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Hoffman, however, disregarded Martin’s concerns and ordered her to set up artificial water sources (called “guzzlers”) in order to enhance “coyote and varmint hunting,” according to an email he sent to a sportsmen’s group.

“This is a classic example of a Bush Administration appointee inappropriately intervening to countermand wildlife professionals for political reasons,” stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, the former assistant superintendent at Mojave NP, noting that Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide, has no biological training. “Paul Hoffman should be fired for incompetence.”

The Mojave National Preserve covers 1.6 million acres of desert and is home to more than 2,500 native species of which approximately 100 are considered imperiled. The two groups pointed to the opinions of more than 50 wildlife experts that the guzzlers would threaten desert wildlife, particularly the desert tortoise, the flagship species of the Mojave Preserve.

“Superintendent Martin did the right thing to follow the law and involve the public,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “More guzzlers would harm native desert wildlife, and violate an agreement Interior made to keep these wells capped. There are already many natural waters and guzzlers on the Mojave National Preserve, which should be managed as a natural area, not a game farm.”

“Mojave National Preserve must obey the long-established policies of the National Park Service which mandate that artificial water sources for wildlife may be provided only in extreme conditions; conditions hardly evident at Mojave,” Buono concluded.