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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Back from the Ranch

We just got back yesterday from Rankin Ranch, a combination guest and cattle ranch in southern California. They have lots of activities for adults and especially for kids, the most popular of which is riding horses.

It's also interesting to observe an operating ranch. It's basically a team of men, horses, dogs (of the herding variety), and cattle eking out the only living possible from the dried grass of this very hilly range. Even the cattle alone could not survive because they require the men (with the assistance of horses) to pump water for drinking. Otherwise, there would be little life through much of the ranch.

Environmentalists, especially of the animal rights variety, hate ranchers. They do their best to harrass ranchers via the courts and public relations. Given that I was just at a ranch, I found the following amusing:

Jim Chilton is one of hundreds of ranchers targeted by environmental groups for allegedly allowing cattle to despoil the West's backcountry. Now Mr. Chilton is showing ranchers how to turn the tables on the green groups by using their own playbook.

The Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson is known for its lawsuits against ranching practices - and for its methods of posting photos on the Internet that it says depict land destruction. So when the Center came after Mr. Chilton, he struck back with a defamation suit in Arizona Superior Court in Tucson last year.

He produced his own photos of lands the group claimed he spoiled in order to argue that their photos had exaggerated the damage. He snapped one photo, for example, of a hillside featured on the Center's Web site to show that what looked like barren earth was just a tiny patch surrounded by lush grass.

After a jury trial this year, Mr. Chilton was awarded $600,000, including $500,000 in punitive damages against the environmental group. "I had to decide whether I was a cowboy or a wimp," Mr. Chilton says. "I decided to be a cowboy...and not ignore people saying bad things about my ranch." The Center denies wrongdoing and has appealed the decision.

Go cowboys! However, what is a little less amusing and more sinister is evidence that environmentalists are hijacking the government for their own ends:

The Forest Service biologist who supervised the chub studies [on Chilton's land], Stefferud, has donated money to the Center over the years, as he admits. (New Times found records indicating he gave at least $200 in 2002 alone.) "There's nothing wrong with contributing to the Center," he says. "For a long time it was on the United Way form and you could contribute as part of your paycheck. A lot of employees did it that way." His wife Sally also worked on the case as a senior fish biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Meanwhile, another Forest Service employee penned a report claiming that the Chiltons' ranching was likely to harm the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat, another endangered species. That employee is married to a biologist who also donated to the Center -- a man who even co-authored a research paper on ponderosa pine with one of the Center's founders, Kieran Suckling. (Since no one has ever been able to prove that the bat in question lives on the Chiltons' allotment, that issue eventually went away.)

To the Chiltons, those ties were clear evidence that the government was not a neutral party, simply acting as mediator between their interests and those of the environmentalists. Instead, the government and the environmentalists were one and the same.

It's one thing to lobby the government (though I don't love that concept either), it's quite another for members of an activist group to actually become employees of the government and use their position of authority to further their causes at the tax payers' and other groups' expense. Another problem that's magnified by big government.

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