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Calif. cattlemen turn up heat on rustlers

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will bar those convicted of livestock theft from holding a registered brand in California for five years, and the person will face increased scrutiny after that. The bill was the second in two years to deal with cattle rustling, which has become a high-tech crime.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — Advocates for ranching in California found another way to tackle cattle rustling without delving into the controversial issue of jail overcrowding.

Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed a bill backed by the California Cattlemen’s Association that will bar anyone convicted of cattle theft from holding a registered brand in the state for five years. After that, the person will receive increased scrutiny from brand inspectors.

The bill builds on another approved last year that enabled district attorneys to seek fines of as much as $5,000 for cattle theft and give the money to the state Bureau of Livestock Identification to investigate cases.

Justin Oldfield, the CCA’s vice president of government relations, said more thefts are committed by established brand holders than one might expect.

“Livestock are not something you can just go out and steal,” he said. “You kind of have to know what you’re doing … This is an attempt for us to think outside the box.”

Both bills were advanced by Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, a Madera County cattle rancher. Bigelow asserts cattle theft poses “a serious threat” to ranchers’ livelihood.

“By prohibiting individuals convicted of livestock (theft) from holding a registered brand, we can help prevent these crimes from occurring in the future,” he said in a statement.

The CCA and Bigelow have been using a piecemeal approach to address cattle rustling after a more comprehensive proposal failed to gain traction last year. Bigelow originally proposed allowing prosecutors to seek jail time for repeat offenders, but concerns about prison overcrowding threatened to stall the bill.

While some outside the industry may think of cattle rustling as just a fixture of old Western movies and TV shows, it’s actually a high-tech activity in which thieves steal numbers of cattle and sell them on a black market or alter their brands, falsify inspection documents and sneak them out of state, CCA president Tim Koopmann has explained.

In 2012, the Bureau of Livestock Identification reported that 1,100 head of cattle were stolen — a value of nearly $1 million, said Koopmann, a Sunol, Calif., rancher.

This year’s bill, Assembly Bill 1772, passed with unanimous support from the Legislature. Oldfield said the CCA has no plans to propose additional measures to combat cattle thefts, but “if there are good ideas out there for increasing punishment or penalties for theft without wading into the debate about incarceration, we would definitely be interested in looking at them.”

Among other CCA-backed legislation, Brown also signed Assembly Bill 1101, which extends a waiver for standard livestock trailers to traverse the sometimes narrow and windy Highway 101 along California’s north coast.

All 48-foot semitrailers commonly used to carry goods in California are prohibited from traveling through Richardson Grove State Park because of environmental concerns, the CCA explained in a news release. Without an exemption, livestock producers and auction markets in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties would be restricted from shipping cattle to buyers outside the region, the organization explained.

The state Department of Transportation is improving the highway through the park so that 48-foot trailers can legally pass.

Online

California Cattlemen’s Association: http://www.calcattlemen.org



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