Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ranchers Worry about Rustling

Steve Ritter photo

Rustling on the Rise in Gem, Adams, Valley Counties

Ola, Idaho—At a crowded meeting hall ranchers here are worried that modern day rustlers are stealing them blind.

In the three county area, Gem, Adams, and Valley more than 35 livestock owners reported losses. One rancher lost 22 of the 150 cows turned out, that’s a burning 14 percent loss. Ranchers say with high input costs this season, it’s too much loss to overcome.

“I own just over a hundred head, I bring in another two hundred over the summer, when you’re small like me, lose six head that’s quite a bit of money for us, you know.”

This time of year rustlers target calves because they can fit in a small horse trailer and be sold before they’re reported missing.

“There’s a few pairs missing and that raises a red flag in the county. There are a lot of horse trailers running around up there that we don’t have any idea who they are, again that raises the flag. But we need you guys to tell us what you’re seeing and we’ll take care of it,” said Lynn Gibson, State Brand Inspector.

Gibson and the Sheriffs’ Departments from the tri-county area met with ranchers and urged them to be the eyes and ears of Law enforcement.

“We need for you guys to tell us anything you see that’s out of place, doesn’t matter what it is, if it doesn’t look right to you, if it’s somebody you don’t know, tell law enforcement. We can check it out follow it and see what goes on, then we’ll get to the bottom of it,” said Gibson.

The most powerful anti-rustling tool is an effective, low tech device that lets rustlers know they’re being watched: Windshield stickers. The stickers record the time, license plate number of vehicles parked at back country trail-heads, hotspots where rustling is rampant.

Larry Hayhurst of the Idaho State Police told ranchers that the simple reporting technique pin points suspicious activity. “Write the license plate number down, send that information to me or Lynn, put the sticker on their windshield, it lets to lets them know they’ve been observed and you’ve been there, you’re actually being a good neighbor, it says ‘hey, we believe in multiple use’, it’s a pretty good deal.”

The ISP logs 300 to 500 reports of lost or missing cattle a year and authorities fear those numbers could double when the final number counts come in thanks to a sluggish Idaho economy. Because of the high numbers in the three-county area, Gibson says they’ve set up random road blocks and deputies are stopping all trucks and trailers carrying cattle in an attempt to slow the cattle traffic.

“That all started the past two years. We put up the signs and the signs say that all livestock must stop. It’s random but effective, we can set up on any given morning in one place, and then move to another location in the afternoon, another place at night. We can stop all traffic that comes through and check who is going where; it’s been a good tool to track who has been doing what and when and where,” said Gibson.

One rancher said that some of the cattle loss could come from normal attrition, wolf kills and cattle dying from eating poisonous plants, but with a large number of cattle missing he told the group its probably theft.

Rancher Tom Blessinger of Emmett told the group he’s convinced its modern day, high tech rustlers. "There were 191 cows missing last summer, some bulls, a horse and at least a hundred calves; someone is rustling our cattle," he said

Rancher Joe Kennedy is spreading the word to his neighbors. “Like they’re doing in this meeting today, call the brand department if you see anything strange if you don’t know people that are around. I use a game camera in the woods and it lets me know a lot of things it helps a lot and friends out in the woods helps a lot.”

Cattle rustling was a hanging offense a hundred years ago in Idaho. Thieves know it’s easier to steal a few calves than robbing a bank, the Brand Inspectors stress that rustlers are stealing because the chances of getting caught are small, and the rewards, great.

Brand Inspector Gibson offers homespun advice for ranchers: “Trust your neighbor but branding your calves; is really important.

How to fight rustlers:

-- Brand your animals. With a brand, they are more easily returned.

-- Count your cattle as often as you can. The earlier you know they are missing, the better chance authorities have of finding them.

-- Report suspicious vehicles.

-- Get to know local law enforcement.

-- Keep calves away from road access.

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