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Ranchers address Ecology water standards

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

The Washington Cattlemen's Association hosts a meeting Jan. 6 in Ritzville, Wash. to address concerns over letters from the state Department of Ecology about potential to pollute streams. Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation executive director Toni Meacham says Ecology is showing signs of improvement, but a regional expert hasn't seen pollution to the same level. Jack Field, executive vice president of the association, hopes to give certainty to ranchers about the network of support available to them.

Washington ranchers hope to provide landowners with tools if they’re contacted by state regulatory agencies about their potential to pollute streams nearby.

Washington Cattlemen’s Association is partnering with regional county affiliates to host a meeting to discuss stream protection and water quality standards from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Washington Wheat Foundation Annex Building adjacent to the Washington Association of Wheat Growers building, at 109 E. First Ave., in Ritzville, Wash.

The meeting is in response to rancher concerns about 32 letters recently sent by Washington Department of Ecology to regional ranchers warning of their operations’ potential to pollute streams.

“Anytime a person gets a regulatory letter from a state or federal agency, it’s something that’s troubling to people,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the association. “These letters in particular don’t tell the land owner what the problem is. It’s kind of a shot in the dark from the landowner’s perspective to be able to approach this issue and solve it realistically.”

Toni Meacham, a Connell, Wash., attorney and executive director of the Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation, said Ecology has provided more encompassing response letters and been “less abrasive” following a presentation at the association’s annual meeting November in Pasco, Wash.

“They have been doing a better job of trying to actually let people know what’s going on, talk about the options and identify the issues,” she said.

Field hopes the meeting gives attendees an understanding of the network of assistance available if they receive a letter to put together a response plan to satisfy the department. Most ranchers don’t want to work directly with Ecology for technical assistance, Field said. He hopes to convey that there are “multiple sources of scientifically peer-reviewed, factual information” that can be used.

“We need to find a way to provide certainty in this time of uncertainty,” he said. “Hopefully we can create a network and ensure landowners understand how and where they can go to be proactive and prevent letters from coming in the first place.”

Retired Oregon State University rangeland specialist John Buckhouse has been looking at areas and identifying issues in a helpful matter. Buckhouse has met with Ecology and is willing to provide training, Meacham said.

Buckhouse isn’t seeing the level of pollution that Ecology is claiming, she said.

“With anybody that’s a professional, they’re always going to see room for improvement,” she said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, you guys are polluting,’ like Ecology seems to think. (Buckhouse’s approach is) more ‘Hey, let’s make this as good as we can make it, let’s try to work toward the best water quality we can,’ which we all want.”

Meacham says ranchers need to work with Ecology for an improved relationship and educate landowners about what to be looking for.

In addition to Field and Meacham, Washington Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, will be in attendance for a legislative question and answer session.


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