Arizona cattleman wins libel suit against grazing opponents

See also: Jury awards $600,000 to Arizona rancher

A Pima County jury has awarded Arizona rancher Jim Chilton $600,000 in a libel suit against the Tucson-based environmental group, Center for Biological Diversity.  On Jan. 21, jurors in Pima County Superior Court voted 9-1 that the Center made "false, unfair, libelous and defamatory statements" regarding Chilton's management of his Forest Service grazing allotment. 

Chilton, a fifth generation producer and member of the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), claimed the Center made false statements about him in a news advisory, and that the Center posted defaming photographs of his operation on its Web site.  The photos of Chilton's grazing allotment showed barren patches of ground which the Center said illustrated damage done by grazing. Chilton's lawyer, armed with wide-angle photos taken at the same locations, argued that the surroundings were "worthy of a postcard, with oaks and mesquites dotting lush, rolling hills."

"The Center for Biological Diversity tried to further its political agenda by attacking Jim Chilton and alleging that he was mismanaging his 21,500-acre Forest Service grazing allotment, when nothing could be further from the truth,"says Jeff Eisenberg, NCBA director of federal lands and PLC executive director.  "Ultimately, the goal of activist groups like these is to end grazing on public lands. We're glad there are folks like Jim Chilton who won't let that happen."

Chilton has said he will donate some of the $100,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages to the Arizona Cattle Growers Association's legal fund to be used in fights for "truth and responsibility for cattle grazing issues."

 NCBA and the Public Lands Council decry efforts by activist groups that try to portray grazing in a negative light.  "Unfortunately, many of our members are forced to deal with this kind of harassment as they go about earning their livelihoods and building their communities," says Eisenberg.  "When environmental groups engage in these public fights, it does little to meet the mutual goal of conserving resources."     

 Eisenberg says this verdict sets an important precedent and will hopefully dissuade other activist groups from trying to libel ranchers in the future. "The jury's award is an important vindication for Jim's position and for stockgrowers everywhere.  PLC and NCBA congratulate Chilton for his important work in support of responsible management of our public lands. "