CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — An interim legislative committee will study ways to combat an anticipated increase in cattle rustling in Wyoming.

Rep. Robert McKim, R-Afton, said the Joint Interim Agriculture committee will consider boosting the state’s livestock law enforcement capabilities, focusing on cooperation among the law enforcement agencies in Wyoming and surrounding states.

“With the price of beef going up so much, we’re expecting an increase in that activity in the area,” McKim said. “We’re concerned about what our laws say and who we have to enforce them.”

Currently, livestock theft falls under the jurisdiction of the Wyoming Livestock Board’s Law Enforcement unit.

Jimmy Dean Siler, a Wyoming Livestock Board investigator, said the four-person investigative staff is tasked with covering the entire state.

“We’re one of the most proactive livestock investigative agencies around, but we only have four investigators and we’re overseen by our board,” Siler said. “We don’t have the funding. We’re probably one of the most technologically inept agencies out there.”

The unit lost a part-time investigator last year.

Siler told the Casper Star-Tribune that staff members could benefit most from a boost in funding and added cooperation with local law enforcement.

“If we were to take a more proactive stance, we could do more surveillance and work more with our sheriff’s office in the border areas to do more road checks and get a better level of prevention,” he said.

Ken Hamilton, executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said educating state agencies like the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the highway patrol on brand issues is a first step in better rustling enforcement.

“Ideally, you would just have more law enforcement,” Hamilton said. “That could mean working with the law enforcement on all levels to get them up to speed on brand issues.”

Cattle theft presents a unique challenge for law enforcement. Once livestock is loaded on a trailer, the chances of finding them stolen are slim, Siler said.

Rustlers most often steal cattle in small numbers before hauling them to neighboring states with fewer brand laws. There, the animals are sold at livestock auctions or feedlots.

“Pretty quickly, you’re evidence is going to get eaten and disappear forever,” Siler said. “It could be the perfect crime if you made the right connections.”

Hamilton said as long as prices remain high, theft will be a problem for Wyoming ranchers.

“Short of having a cowboy with the cattle all of the time, you’re always going to have those challenges in an open range situation,” he said.

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