Rancher finds fame expensive

  If you seek publicity, you might just find it. Just ask rancher Marcus Rudnick, who was declared a "limited public figure" by an appeals court judge in Ventura, Calif., on June 13. The controversy began in San Luis Obispo County in 1991, when Rudnick put up for lease 75,000 acres he had owned and grazed cattle on for about 40 years. When the new owners, The Nature Conservancy, wouldn't let him graze the land at his discretion, Rudnick blamed the degraded condition of the land on the organization and invited reporters in to write about it. In a local paper, another local rancher, Irv McMillan, wrote a letter to the editor charging that Rudnick and his destructive grazing practices were to blame. Rudnick sued McMillian for libel and a 1993 jury decided in Rudnick's favor. In his reversal, the appeals judge said McMillan's statements were opinion and not defamatory since Rudnick had sought publicity. He released McMillan from paying Rudnick the original $32,000 judgment, and ordered Rudnick to pay all trial and appeal costs. McMillan says he hopes the decision will encourage more debate, since range reforms are "falling victim to the same T-bone and whiskey crowd that has always controlled our public lands."

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