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A discouraging word concerning property rights and conservation

The residents of Bethany Road subdivision have run off their conservationist, farmer David Ciarloni, who leased about 200 acres of cotton land from the Chickasaw Basin Authority in Memphis, Tenn.

The CBA board of directors voted recently to terminate Ciarloni's 10-year lease to farm the CBA property after capitulating to negative publicity about Ciarloni (Delta Farm Press, Sept. 7, 2007). The Bethany Road residents, who live on private property surrounding the CBA property, could hardly contain their glee over the ruling. With Ciarloni out of the henhouse, and them in, they can resume use of the land for their own recreational purposes.

Ciarloni, who put a lot of time and money in improving the property, believes this was their intent from the day he signed on to farm the property. The trouble started after he found out that his neighbors paid about as much attention to his right to farm as Liz Taylor did to saving marriages.

One resident continually rode his horse across the farm despite being told by Ciarloni that it was illegal. Other neighbors rode four wheelers across the property and cut fences to gain access to the property. One resident removed soil from a road that Ciarloni had graded, then tried to hide the theft with earth-moving equipment.

Ciarloni, who has worked the shrinking farmlands in Shelby County for 20 years, was used to dealing with city folk with overly-sensitive attitudes toward farming. But this group was something else. When he caught one trespasser on the wrong side of a fence, the violator responded by telling Ciarloni that that he would not be farming the land much longer.

In 2007, the neighbors seized an opportunity to put some teeth into their threats. The year was hot and dry, and hundreds of deer from the surrounding woods came onto Ciarloni's property to feast on tender young cotton leaves. Ciarloni obtained a depredation permit from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to control the deer, but shortly after the shoot started, his neighbors went ballistic, calling the Memphis Commercial Appeal about a farmer shooting deer right and left, even though they knew about it beforehand.

Eventually the news media and Ciarloni's neighbors raised such a ruckus that the permit was pulled, even though Ciarloni hadn't violated any rules of the permit. Needless to say, Ciarloni's cotton crop became a stomp ‘n chomp for the local deer population. His losses were 50 percent of anticipated yield.

The whole nasty incident came to a close in February when the CBA voted to end the lease. CBA board members did sense that Ciarloni's property rights had been ignored. CBA Chairman Charles Perkins repeatedly had stern warnings for Bethany Road residents about continuing to trespass should Ciarloni's lease be terminated and the land put into the Conservation Reserve Program, which the board was contemplating.

Ironically, the residents of Bethany Road masqueraded as conservationists during the meeting, sputtering about their love of wildlife and the environment. But it was Ciarloni who cared for the land and the soil and made sure that a dangerous pest (deer) did not disturb the delicate ecology. With the deer population set to explode in the area, I hope they're happy about letting a good conservationist slip away.

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