WA Supreme Court Says Ranch Must Fence-In Creek

Aug 15, 2013

Can regulators make a rancher fence-in his land? The Washington Supreme Court said yes. The case pitted rancher against environmentalists, with land rights and pollution enforcement at stake.

Joe Lemire owns the ranch in southeastern Washington that caused the dispute.
Credit Courtney Flatt / Northwest Public Radio

Pataha Creek winds through Joe Lemire’s ranch in southeastern Washington. His 29 head of cattle regularly cross the creek to reach several pastures.

Department of Ecology inspectors say trampled stream beds and cattle manure degrade water quality in this already unhealthy creek. Lemire refused to fence the creek and sued the department.

Now, in an 8-1 decision the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state, saying it can regulate runoff pollution. Kelly Susewind is with the department.

“We always try to reach out and work collaboratively in a technical assistance role with agricultural producers and landowners. This affirms that we have the authority to do that" says Susewind.

Lemire says a fence around Pataha Creek would devastate his land and his business. He says he’s reviewing his options.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio