Catron County wins in court, loses on the ground

  Catron County wins in court,

loses on the ground

They've influenced dozens of other counties, been hawked for sale at national conferences and plastered on the front pages of newspapers around the country. Now, Catron County, N.M." s controversial land-use ordinances have survived a constitutional challenge.

On Jan. 16, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from two environmental groups charging that the ordinances violate the civil rights of people fighting overgrazing of cattle on federal land. District Judge Edwin Mechem ruled that while the constitutional issues are "ripe for review," plaintiffs Gila Watch and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity didn't have legal standing because they couldn't prove the ordinances hurt them. The groups say they may appeal.

Meanwhile, the county isn't enforcing ordinances that authorize fines of up to $10,000 for violations of what the ordinances claim are the "private property rights' of ranchers on federal land. On Jan. 23, County Sheriff Robert Wellborn refused to arrest five environmentalists who "confessed" they'd flouted the county law. The same day, the county commission authorized County Attorney James Catron to review the ordinances for revisions. Gila Watch Director Susan Schock said the county's actions show that "Jim Catron is scared to death that someone will get to court over this again and that they will be struck down."

*Tony Davis