Washington Cattle Unit Backs Rancher In Court Challenge

State wants to confiscate producer's land.

Published on: Nov 27, 2012

A Washington State Supreme court case has gained the attention and support of numerous ag organizations, including the Cattle Producers of Washington, as a Dayton area rancher is challenging the Washington Department of Ecology's attempt to "take" his land  via pollution regulations.

Rancher Joe Lemire owns a herd of cattle that often graze along Pataha Creek near Dayton in Columbia County. In 2009, DOE ordered him to install permanent fencing along the creek to prevent his cows from allegedly polluting the stream.

He sued the agency in a January, winning his case in  the lower level court before it was decided to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Keeping cattle from polluting waterways continues to be a challenge in the West.
Keeping cattle from polluting waterways continues to be a challenge in the West.

Lemire contends that DOE was overreaching its authority by ignoring the necessity of a specific point of discharge in order to regulation pollution.

Instead, DOE extended enforcement to regulation pollution, he believes.

"Unless DOE is reigned in," in his case, he claims the precedent will be set to impact other state cattle operations.

"Ecology has used its purported administrative authority to severely restrict the use of private property," he says.

 "Each and every farmer and rancher will be subject to  administrative mandates and a loss of farming rights" if DOE wins, he adds.

Several members of CPOW traveled to Olympia to hear the arguments in Lemire v. Department of Ecology before the court this month.

"We are concerned that Ecology is targeting this rancher, and trying to make an example out of him without any real proof," says CPOW President Dave Dashiell.

"While Ecology is trying to keep a cow out of a creek, they are ignoring that there are still a great number of animals, particularly wildlife, which could also be considered sources of pollution."

CPOW notes that four agencies own 190,000 acres near Dayton, but none of them have ever been asked to regulate their non-point sources of pollution.

Public lands in Columbia County include the Umatilla National Forest  and the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area, a landmass of  160,000 acres where wildlife live, drink and defecate near streams and waterways.