Ranchers are fit to be tied about the indiscriminate shooting of some 65 cattle in recent months across a wide swath of remote northern Nevada. A reward for the arrest and conviction of the culprits has climbed to more than $25,000 since last week’s coverage.
“If frontier justice were still in force, it probably would not be good if they were caught,” said Stephanie Licht, Executive Director of the Elkobased Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) since July. “It just makes you sick to heart.”
Licht estimates Nevada’s livestock losses from the shootings exceed $250,000 when calving potential and production are factored into the equation. Of the 65 head shot, 10 were killed and 55 are walking wounded with several sustaining gut shots, she told the Western Livestock Journal.
One bull was shot three times, and the entrails of some cattle are hanging from their wounds. Others have scabbed over. All of the shootings have happened on either U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public range lands, none on private property.
The first 22 head of cattle shot late last summer were found on three ranches in the Susie Creek area of Elko County. Five were killed; 17 injured. The shootings have continued through Oct. 15. Many of the animals have been shot on their right sides by either shotguns or small caliber weapons.
“We have not polled our members at this time because they are bringing cattle off the range. Some don’t know about it until they run their cattle through the chutes” and discover their wounds, Licht said, noting the NCA has about 525 members.
Ranchers, hunters, business people, state officials and others have kicked in funds to boost the reward’s amount, hoping that will halt the cattle abuse. Under a revised Nevada statute, harassing, maiming, mutilating or killing cattle are Class D felonies with stiff penalties.
Other shootings have been in Humboldt County’s Martin Basin about 125 miles due west of Elko and 25 miles north of Winnemucca. The cattle of four ranchers there were involved. Another rancher northeast of Battle Mountain “lost a bunch of cattle.” Nine cattle north of Wells also were hurt.
Licht suspects someone on trail bikes has been inflicting the harm, chasing the cattle until they drop. The assailants also have vandalized gates and fences.
Licht noted that Nevada is one of the most arid, mountainous states in the union.
She earned degrees in animal science and general agriculture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She and her late first husband started working as itinerant ranch hands in 1975, working 10 ranches in Utah and Nevada for 12 years.
Licht also worked as Executive Secretary for the Nevada Woolgrowers and Sheep Commission, and as a field representative for the Nevada Farm Bureau for nine years.
Making matters worse for ranchers is the BLM using outdated drought information to force cattle producers off public lands despite good rains in August and September, she said. The Nevada Land Action Association has filed an appeal against the BLM using such data and coercing ranchers to either voluntarily cut their herds or be forced to reduce them.
“So, we’re between a rock and a hard place. Some don’t realize people have been herding cattle for meat, milk and clothing since the eighth day. Now they want to tell us we can’t,” Licht said, estimating Nevada cattle numbers are down 40 percent since 1970. “There are still guys plowing with yaks and water buffalo elsewhere in the world.”
Kris Stewart and her husband Fred run the 96 Ranch north of Winnemucca in Paradise Valley. The ranch is more than 150 years old. Fred’s great grandfather started it the same year Nevada became a state. Fred is a fourth generation rancher. Their daughter, Patrice, 16, is a fifth generation one.
Kris Stewart told WLJ that the Nevada cattle being intentionally wounded outnumber those being killed by a 3:1 ratio. As cattle are being rounded up, some are showing fresh wounds while others have scabbed over. Birds and coyotes quickly clean the cattle’s skeletal remains when the livestock die.
“The way we believe they were killed and why we think there were gun shots is they dropped where they stood, landing on top of their own chests,” Stewart said about the cattle.
The Stewarts have lost 13 cattle, with three shot dead and the rest injured, out of a herd of 700 mother cows. Because of Nevada’s significant drought, the Stewarts turned out a reduced number—between 500 and 540 pairs—on range land.
When her husband noticed milk squirting from the mouth of one calf, he discovered that the calf had part of its jaw shot off. It was hit by either shotgun pellets, bird shot or small caliber bullets.
“When you see a little calf with its jaw blown off, you think: ‘What kind of a person does that?’” she said, stressing she does not think hunters, campers or recreationalists are to blame.
Stewart suspects those guilty of the crimes are either marijuana growers in the area trying to protect their pot crops or radical environmentalists who want to purge livestock from public lands. The Western Watersheds Project the past four years has more aggressively sought to remove grazing cattle from public lands.
Bow hunters, whose hunting season is among the earliest to start, have accidentally stumbled on pot farms only to have rifles pointed at them by proprietors. Nevada’s remoteness, desert environment, high elevation, steepness and water sources have made it a good area to secretly grow marijuana plants the past six or eight years, she said.
The growth in Nevada’s marijuana operations has coincided with the Western Watersheds Project’s lawsuits against federal agencies to protect riparian areas, Stewart noted.
“I think that there’s sort of a renewed feeling that maybe you ought to pack (guns for protection) when you ride up there,” she said, wondering if she should take GPS readings for water rights by herself. “It’s a bad deal. It makes you wonder if you’re safe. It makes you rethink how you work your permits.”
Most ranchers expect the loss of one or two animals a year from hunters accidentally shooting them or other mishaps. Negative economic conditions also can cause cattle losses to climb.
“Particularly when the economy is bad, people kill and butcher the cows right there and the meat is gone. We don’t get too upset. More than the killing of the animals, which is upsetting, is watching the animals come home hurt and wounded. It seems to be some type of a campaign,” Stewart said.
She hopes those shooting and killing the cattle will either be caught or driven out of the area by the increased publicity. “We don’t think it’s sportsmen. … This is way beyond the tiny losses we might take year to year with accidents up there.” — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent