Letter to the Editor for Sept. 16, 2013

Written by Baker City Herald readers September 16, 2013 08:41 am

Residents need to be aware of Oregon’s open range law

By Curtis Martin

Several weeks ago six cattle were found shot in La Grande and the Oregon ranching community is pleased to hear that a suspect has been arrested for this violation. While still undoubtedly an injustice and crime, these occurrences (thankfully) are rare. 

The Union County Sheriff’s Office, along with the owners of the cattle and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association offered a $2,100 reward for information pertaining to this unwarranted shooting. Just last week the La Grande Observer quoted Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen in a vow to “… vigorously pursue the person or persons responsible.” We feel this was precisely on point and commend them for a job well done. Non-destructive, legal alternatives of removing stray cattle are lined out in Oregon statute and enlist the expertise of Oregon’s Animal Identification Program.

In certain parts of the state, counties preserve Oregon’s “open range” laws for livestock management, while other parts of the state uphold “Livestock Districts.” The Glass Hill area of La Grande comprises a mix of both, with this particular situation falling in a livestock district portion. There is little gray area in their differences, one allowing for livestock to graze the range at large while the other restricts grazing by fence boundaries, separating different landowner properties. Unfortunately many who are not livestock managers are unaware of these differences, occasionally causing tension to build between land and livestock owners. Neither designation allows a person to shoot livestock as a remedy for stray or unwanted animals on property. Oregon law provides remedies to have stray animals “taken-up” if the livestock owner fails to manage the animals and does not maintain adequate fencing. However, most ranchers do not want their livestock on a pasture they do not belong and resolve the problem once they are notified.

Near John Day in 1997, Patrick Shipsey, a doctor and landowner aggravated by the sight of neighboring cattle present on his property, chose to execute stray cattle rather than taking the necessary actions aligned under Oregon statute chapter 607 (Livestock Districts; Stock Running at Large) for stray livestock removal. In the end, Shipsey was charged with criminal mischief in the first degree, was sentenced to 15 days in prison, $4,499 in fines and $7,770 in restitution. Shipsey owned open range property, meaning it was his responsibility to restrict livestock from entering his ground. He justified his actions and time in court as a way of challenging a law he disagreed with. While the open range law won out in the end, producers in the area still argue that more should have been done. Shipsey’s record now wears a Class C felony. 

The wrongful shooting of livestock is a serious crime, the individual responsible for shooting cattle in La Grande could be subject to multiple charges. Law enforcement has the responsibility to investigate and bring charges against the individual in due process. The charges of criminal mischief as well as animal abuse in the first degree or aggravated animal abuse in the first degree could be sought by the district attorney’s office in Union County. Respectively, these animal abuse statutes could tag the shooter with a Class A misdemeanor. 

Dependent on the degree with which these bovine lives were ended, the shooter could be looking at a steeper charge of animal abuse resulting in a Class C Felony under ORS 167.322, which describes a crime that “maliciously kills and animal” or “intentionally or knowingly tortures and animal.”

Laws are meant to be upheld and precedence must continue to be set for the assurance of livestock owners, the welfare of their animals and their right to safety for personal property.

Curtis Martin of North Powder is a rancher. He currently is the president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.