Does Web site turn ranchers into targets?

  Publicly funded predator control in the West is raising more than coyote hackles. The newest scuffle was sparked by an Internet Web page, not by poisons and traps.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Albuquerque-based animal rights group, New West Research, obtained files from Wildlife Services, the federal agency formerly known as Animal Damage Control. Then it set up a Web page called "Hall of Shame," listing the names, addresses and phone numbers of New Mexico ranchers helped by the agency.

"If you're accepting government handouts, then you have to accept the fact that the information is public," says Camilla Fox of the California-based Animal Protection Institute. "We think it's the public's right to know where deadly poisons and traps are being used on public lands."

The Web site has critics such as People for the USA and the American Farm Bureau Federation crying foul. PFUSA's Dave Skinner says ranchers enter into a trust relationship with the government when they sign up for government services. He and the Farm Bureau say environmentalists violate that trust when they disseminate "private" information on the Internet.

Like Web sites listing names and addresses of abortion doctors, Skinner says, a list called the Hall of Shame turns ranchers into targets. "I'd never recommend that a Web site like that be censored," he adds, "but (there need) to be consequences if anything happens to the ranchers."

Now, Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, filed by both sides, are proliferating. In response to a suit filed by the Farm Bureau this fall, a Waco, Texas, judge issued a temporary restraining order that stops government documents from going to the Animal Protection Institute, at least until the Farm Bureau's suit is settled.

* Ali Macalady
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