Concerned ranchers gathered at the Jensen Memorial Youth Ranch last Friday, Oct. 11 to discuss stringent new Department of Ecology rules that could impact their business.
Around 60 to 80 met at the youth ranch just outside of Medical Lake to hear what other communities were doing in regard to providing support for what they view as intrusive tactics by Ecology.
“It’s amazing how many people don’t realize what’s going on,” Spokane County Cattlemen president Jim Wentland said.
A ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court involving Dayton rancher Joseph Lemire earlier this year appeared to give the Department of Ecology expanded authority to regulate livestock pollution into bodies of water. One of the specific items mentioned at the meeting was the requirement for ranchers to put up fencing 75 feet above a body of water’s high water mark, if seeking federal grants to complete the project. For some, that would avert the thousands of dollars in construction costs, however it would reduce their productive land by a large amount, depending on their property size.
Lemire, who battled the Department of Ecology for nine years prior to the court’s decision, was required to put up fencing along Pahata Creek to prevent livestock from intruding on the body of water. His supporters argue, however, that the creek is only present for a few months out of the year and requiring fencing places an undue burden on farmers. The notion of private property rights is also a major concern.
Toni Meacham, an attorney from Connell, Wash., said the Department of Ecology is looking for specific things when it observes property. Among those include bare ground, exposed soil, slumping, overgrazing, woody vegetation, paths or trails and manure accumulations.
Meacham, who represented Lemire in the Supreme Court case, said science was never used to justify the Department of Ecology’s claims.
“Science was never used to establish it,” she said.
Critics at the meeting, however, said Ecology’s criteria didn’t take into account whether an item such as manure accumulation was made by domesticated livestock or wildlife. They argue that if a deer runs through a person’s property, that Ecology will still have probable cause to send out a letter informing property owners of violating an environmental regulation.
Those in attendance at the meeting were encouraged to pool resources in order to help others who might face long, drawn-out legal battles if environmental violations are contested. They were open to working with Ecology to ensure their farming practices are correct, however, unfounded violations drew the ire of many comments at the meeting.
There is some relief for ranchers, however, amidst the fray.
The Legislature passed House Bill 1113 earlier this year, which requires the use of science in determining if a property is violating environmental regulations.
Several elected representatives were at the meeting, including Stevens County commissioners and other rural town council members. They argued that ranchers are likely doing a better job at their craft than what was done 20 years ago, given technique improvements and new monitoring procedures.
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.