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Rancher: Ecology fight a ‘victory’

Matthew Weaver
Dayton, Wash., rancher Joe Lemire considers the 8-1 ruling against him in the Washington State Superior Court a victory, as it galvanized the cattle industry into activity. Lemire says he'd do it all again, "in a New York minute."

DAYTON, Wash. — A cattle rancher says the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling against him last year was actually a victory.

“We don’t feel that we really lost,” Joe Lemire said. “It galvanized all of our supporters. They’re all together, they visit and they talk.”

In August, the court ruled that conditions on Lemire’s Dayton, Wash., operation were recognized causes of livestock fecal matter and sediment getting into water, and that neighboring Pataha Creek was polluted.

Ecology was not required to show that conditions on Lemire’s farm were a proximate cause of pollution in the creek, Justice Debra Stephens wrote at the time.

Had the ruling been more divided, 5-4 or 6-3, Lemire might have thought the opposition had a point, he said.

“With an 8-1 decision, it was very obvious some of the judges did not read the evidence we presented,” he said.

Lemire, 71, reduced his herd from 29 to 25 cow-calf pairs because he is aging and not because of Ecology, he said. He keeps them on either side of the creek. He removed them from pastures near the creek two months earlier last winter, increasing feed costs.

“We expect to hear from them again, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “Our legal team is still standing by.”

Brook Beeler, spokesperson for Ecology, says the agency reached out to Lemire’s attorney to follow up on the original order to build fencing to protect the creek.

“We do not have confirmation that any farm practice changes have been made to protect water quality,” Beeler said. “We believe that we can work with Mr. Lemire to find an approach that benefits his operation and protects clean water.”

Toni Meacham, Lemire’s attorney and the executive director of the Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation, said there have been discussions with the agency, but nothing is concrete, Meacham said.

When asked if he had to do it over again, Lemire said he would challenge Ecology “in a New York minute.” He would focus on constitutional issues with Ecology’s orders.

Lemire estimates the lawsuit cost his operation $30,000. With a tremendous amount of financial support from the industry, his attorney bills — roughly $100,000 — are paid, he said.

“Every dollar that went into the lawsuit is a dollar that we can’t spend caring for our cattle,” Lemire’s longtime companion, Margaret McVicker, said.

Even if all manageable animals and human interactions were halted, the waters would still not meet Ecology standards all the time, McVicker said.

“It’s not that they want clean water, they want pristine water,” she said.

Lemire is watching several bills in the state legislature that would require a more scientific approach in Ecology’s decision making. He’s less certain something will come out of a new agriculture advisory committee for Ecology.

“It’s the same old stuff from Ecology,” he said, blaming longtime staff several levels beneath the director for setting the agency’s policy. “These people are not sincere with what they’re doing. They’ve got a goal. They haven’t bent, I don’t think they will.”

Meacham said the advisory committee is a huge step forward and that the Lemire case was likely a factor.

“Lemire helped wake the industry up to what can and will happen if the industry doesn’t stand up for property rights,” she said.



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