Cattle on the Malheur National Forest

A recent bill passed by the Oregon House would change the process for forming or expanding a livestock district.

The Oregon House has approved a bill requiring notification of affected landowners when open range may be converted to a livestock district where farm animals can’t roam freely.

Put simply, on open range landowners who want to keep livestock out are responsible for building fences, while in livestock districts ranchers must build fences to keep their animals contained on their property.

There is open range in parts of 23 counties, while Harney, Lake and Grant counties are entirely open range.

Under House Bill 3365, which passed 56-2 on April 15, existing livestock districts would also only be allowed to annex adjacent properties into their boundaries, rather than more distant parcels.

The legislation was inspired by the enlargement of a livestock district along the Southern Oregon Coast that caught some ranchers off guard.

It’s not feasible to build fences across the rough terrain to exclude livestock from the new boundaries, which were expanded onto land far from the original district at the urging of a timber company, said Anne Guerin, a Curry County rancher.

“We would like to continue to operate these historic ranches and not have our livelihoods completely compromised or maybe stopped because of a situation like this,” Guerin said during an earlier legislative hearing.

The changes to Oregon’s livestock district laws would not retroactively help ranchers affected by the expansion along the Southern Coast, but it would help prevent similar problems from arising in the future, she said.

Upon receiving a petition to create or expand a livestock district, a local government would have to schedule a public hearing on the matter within 30 to 90 days under the bill.

A notice of the proposal would be published in the largest local newspaper and sent by certified mail to landowners within the proposed district and within 500 feet of its borders.

The process would be similar to other land use changes considered by local governments, with uncontroversial proposals being on a faster track for approval, said Rocky Dallum, political advocate for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

The issue is most likely to affect areas in Southwest and Southeast Oregon where livestock can run at large on the open range.

Prohibiting non-contiguous parcels from being included in a livestock district is the other main component of HB 3365, Dallum said. “That’s really playing fast and loose with existing districts and it’s surprising to people and unfair to people.”

The bill would not be an insurmountable barrier for the creation of livestock districts, which are useful in some circumstances, said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“It’s just a method of ensuring they will be well thought out and appropriate for the areas that they’re looked to, and that no landowners are caught unaware or without an opportunity to be heard,” Cooper said.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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