RIVERTON, Wyo. — A settlement has ended a lawsuit filed by several Fremont County ranchers against a conservation group suspected of trespassing to collect water data.
Fremont County District Court Judge Norman Young approved a settlement that prevents the Western Watersheds Project’s regional director, Jonathon Ratner, from traveling on some private roads, but doesn’t impose any monetary damages.
Ratner has collected water samples in Wyoming that he contends show that streams with grazing in their wetland areas have five to 20 times the allowable amount of E. coli, The Riverton Ranger reported (http://bit.ly/2chIuSB).
The ranchers filed the lawsuit after realizing Ratner wouldn’t have been able to get to some of the public lands in question in Fremont County without driving through privately owned property.
However, because the plaintiffs couldn’t show any physical destruction by Ratner to their properties, Young ruled out any award of damages.
Since the ranchers failed to ask for any compensatory damages, Young also nixed the request for punitive damages, those aimed at discouraging Ratner and his peers from further violations.
He then ordered both parties to mediation in the spring.
Karen Budd-Falen, who represented the ranchers in the case, said she was happy with the settlement because of the restrictions placed on Ratner’s travel.
The settlement stipulates that if any ranchers have evidence of trespass by Ratner, he will be required to pay $2,500 for each first offense and $5,000 for all subsequent offenses.
Ratner said the limitations on his travel in the area might limit some ability to collect data in the future, but in many cases, there are still options for public access.
Ratner has argued the case against him is a blatant attempt to pile legal fees onto Western Watersheds that discourage activism.
Budd-Falen denies that argument.
“It wasn’t about data collection. It was about trespassing on private property,” Budd-Falen said.
Ratner said the case highlights the need for the Bureau of Land Management to make sure it gets easements for roads the public commonly uses.
“The federal land management agencies have been very lax in doing their due diligence,” he said.
Information from: The (Riverton, Wyo.) Ranger, http://www.dailyranger.com