Ranger charges ranchers with assault

  • Chuck Oliver

    Michael P. Berman
  When Chuck Oliver's job with the Forest Service in Montana fell victim to an agency consolidation three years ago, he seized the chance to return to his native New Mexico. But Oliver, a range conservationist on the Gila National Forest in Catron County, found that public-lands grazing was much more contentious in the Southwest than it had been up north.

On March 15, he experienced outright aggression when he drove 85 miles to Eager, Ariz., to attend a meeting between ranchers on the Apache National Forest and wise-use advocate and attorney Karen Budd-Falen. After being asked to leave the meeting, which ads said was to "discuss coordinating the fight against the preservationist assault on our rangelands," Oliver stood in the hallway and continued to listen. Several men soon followed.

"They all grabbed me," Oliver recalls. "One guy was beating me on the head, another guy was pulling on my ear. They wanted me to leave the (building), and, fool that I am, I said "Well, I'm not going to go." " He is suing three men and the Apache-Sitgreaves Allottees Association for assault and battery, seeking both medical expenses and damages.

"The job really used to be fun," he says. "One permittee came up to me yesterday and said (my lawsuit) was a chickenshit thing to do, and that any respect he had for me is gone now."

Oliver says he's disappointed in the turn of events, but he doesn't plan to leave his job: "Nobody's going to chase me out of it."

" Lisa Jones