Rancher wins defamation claim against conservation nonprofit

An Arizona rancher has employed activist tactics to win a lawsuit against a conservation group, and his success may inspire other ranchers to fight back against greens. Jim Chilton took the Center for Biological Diversity to court last year for defamation, after the group posted photos to its website showing destruction on land that Chilton has long leased for grazing from the U.S. Forest Service. The center claimed that bad grazing practices caused the devastation. Chilton produced new photographs of the same areas, shot from different angles, to support his contention that the center exaggerated its claims. In January, a jury awarded Chilton $600,000, including $500,000 in punitive damages. Paying up may devastate the center, says cofounder Kieran Suckling. The group is planning to appeal. Suckling admits that its photos weren’t representative of all the land Chilton leases, but, he says, “What law in the universe says I’m not allowed to take pictures showing [just] damaged areas?”