Cows, ballot measure gunned down in Oregon

  • Dr. Patrick Shipsey at his arraignment

    B. Higley/Grant County Press

JOHN DAY, Ore. - Patrick Shipsey is a tall, thin doctor who loves rural living. A native of the small southern Oregon city of Klamath Falls, he moved to John Day six years ago because he says he was drawn to the surrounding countryside. Although his environmentalism at times made him a pariah in this ranching-logging town of 2,000 people, he has been a well-respected practitioner who runs a fitness center on the side.

But on Oct. 13, Shipsey snapped.

After trying for five years to keep a neighbor's cows off his 928 acres and away from a stream coursing through his property, he admits he shot 11 cows. A few days later, logging contractor Larry Pitts, who was clearing mistletoe-infested trees for the doctor, spotted the dead cows lying belly-up on Shipsey's property. A week after that, authorities charged Shipsey with 11 counts of criminal mischief.

Shipsey, 43, didn't just kill cattle. He may have helped kill a controversial ballot initiative that would kick cattle off hundreds of the state's polluted streams, a measure for which he was one of the leading sponsors. After leading by 20 points in mid-September polls, the "clean streams" measure crashed at the ballot box by a 64-36 percent margin.

The shooting was hardly the only reason. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a popular liberal Democrat who often wears cowboy boots at public functions, opposed the measure. So did virtually every other Oregon politician and most major newspapers. Opponents also outspent environmentalist backers by more than 5-1.

But until the shooting occurred, the grazing proposal had been just one of 23 ballot questions overwhelming a confused electorate.

"The shooting got the attention of people who would otherwise not pay attention," said Bill Lunch, an Oregon State University political science professor. "It reinforced the claim by opponents, made fairly or unfairly, that the proponents were extremists."

Back home, some of Shipsey's ranching adversaries were thrilled: They thought this might drive Shipsey out of town, said Pitts, a veteran logging contractor who was removing 400,000 board-feet of second-growth forest for the doctor. Even before the cow executions, a group of 60 ranchers had picketed his property, carrying signs that mocked his logging by calling him a "preservationist turned extractionist."

After Shipsey's arrest, several letter writers to the local weekly Blue Mountain Eagle urged readers to shun his practice and run him out of town. "Bring on the tar and feathers and I will definitely supply the rail," wrote Adrienne Statum, who lives in the neighboring town of Mount Vernon.

But John Day's mayor, Chris Labhart, was more sympathetic. Although the mayor doesn't agree with Shipsey on environmental issues, he called Shipsey an excellent doctor "and a real caring individual, not just about the environment, but about people in general."

Ecologist Denzel Ferguson, who lives 35 miles north of John Day, said Shipsey was one of the brightest people he had ever met, and that he couldn't fathom why the doctor would start shooting, particularly during an election campaign.

"He must have just gone berserk when he kept seeing those cows over on his land, and thought, 'nobody is going to help me, so I might as well do it myself,' " said Ferguson, author of Sacred Cows at the Public Trough, published in 1993.

The conflict that led to the shooting stemmed from Grant County's century-old open range law. Under the law, a property owner must build fences if he wants to keep out another landowner's cattle. Shipsey had built five miles of fencing not long after he bought his land in 1991, but elk from a herd on either side would regularly knock over the fences. That allowed neighbor Bobby Sproul's cows to break through and start chewing at grasses and trees along Shipsey's creek.

"The first several times this happened, Mr. Sproul was gracious enough to go up and send one of his buckaroos (to get the cows) off my property," Shipsey recalled. "Then he told me, 'Look I'm too busy to do this. You can hire a cowboy for $60 to $100 a day.' "

Sproul, now 82, recalled only that he had given Shipsey the name of a cowboy who could help him fix the fences back then, and hadn't talked to him more than a half-dozen times since 1991.

Now, Shipsey faces the prospect of $1.1 million in fines, 55 years in jail and losing his physician's license if he is convicted. But he told reporters he has no intention of moving or changing his political views.

"I am what I am and I do what I believe in," he said. "I'm not going to turn into a redneck just to get along."

He also said the anti-grazing initiative trounced by voters was a "horrible measure" and impossible to enforce. His rejection of the ballot measure he'd backed may have stemmed from his fellow environmentalists' rejection: After his arrest, Shipsey was removed from the initiative's steering committee.

Tony Davis reports from Portland, Oregon.

Cattle Grazing
tony gheno
tony gheno
Nov 10, 2008 03:52 PM
My 3 year old daughter has brain cancer and is being treated at lucille Packard hospital at stanford.

At the same time, we have an on going problem with cattle people trespassing our 160 acre timber farm in the stanislaus forest and have been treatend with mountain justice by the local sheriffs dept. (when people get out of line, we’ve seen trailer shot up with over 130 bullet holes).

Here is a halfway written article by a local writer who has since moved.
A local resident’s last friendly letter
Ten years ago, a local resident initiated a complaint regarding cattle grazing illegally on his 160 acre parcel, dated 7-17-1998. On 11-10-98, TC Animal Control told this tax paying county resident in writing that they were ‘in the process of filing’ with TC’s District Attorney’s Office but that due to a backlog (exact quotations are prohibited) they could not provide an actual filing date. I wish I could find a job shuffling papers and then writing a letter about having ‘shuffled some papers’. Perhaps this ‘Kansas City Shuffle’ is why our state is in the red almost 20 billion. In the private sector, even writing such a letter would be ground for termination. Since Tuolumne County Animal Control is empowered to assess fees for dealing with these types of problems, they are the only go to people for dealing with it. TC, and all the other counties in which the Stanislaus NF is located, are closed range. That said, and to paraphrase for brevity, our TC Supervisors enacted and passed an ordinance that ranchers (permit holders) are responsible for keeping range cattle off of properties where the owner objects. These landowners DO NOT have to fence their property to keep livestock out. The ordinance is clear and concisely nonspecific, even wishy-washy—borderline sleazy as well. It gets pretty smarmy in a hurry.
Our own National Forest Policy states: The United States is not responsible for intrusion of permitted livestock upon private lands nor for the settlement of controversies between livestock owners and landowners. So it is closed range, ranchers are responsible for keeping their cattle off objecting landowner’s properties and landowners are not required to fence their properties. You might assume the holder of the grazing permit, once informed of the problem, would be required to fence off the NF land to prevent intrusion. Not so. Quite to the contrary, the ‘Regional Forester’ then struck two sentences from the wording of the grazing permits. This was performed during this 1998 review on the advice from the Office of General Counsel and Regional Range Program Manager. They wanted to make sure that any language implicating them towards enforcing their own rules were omitted. They concluded it would be a civil matter between landowners and livestock permit holders (ranchers). Spontaneous images of Pontius Pilate washing his hands while Christ was crucified come to mind. This is collusive, vested interest at work in a very egregious manner! I had to reread the letter to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. Ironically, at the left hand corner of their stationary is the familiar forest service badge with the statement, ‘Caring for the Land and Serving People’. We can now coin the phrase, ‘Tuolumne County Shuffle’ without any remorse. Here was an example of NOT ‘Caring’ and the literal opposite of ‘Serving’ or self-serving. The terms, ‘cronyism’ and ‘collusion’ seem appropriate in this instance but, since I am not an attorney, how would I know the impact of removing these sentences from a county ordinance or of actual malfeasance?
Could things get any worse for this poor family? Well, they own a beautiful home out past Mt. Knight near forest road WXYZ. Animal Control will not go out that far for any reason. Call the Sheriff is what they are told. In the ten continuous years cattle have violated their property, mucked up the spring fed pond they built and pooped on and destroyed their landscaping; they have met the sheriff just once. It gets a lot worse! It turns out the sheriff is an immediate neighbor of the rancher owning the grazing permit. During that single visit, He alluded to the remote location (way out past Mount Knight) as being one where ‘frontier justice’ was often deployed and, in a case where somebody did a bad thing, their trailer ended up with 130 bullet holes. Well, since there isn’t a recording, let’s assume this is balderdash and hearsay. Without excessive imagination, I can see a less than brilliant sheriff telling his source of tasty tri-tip that he’ll ‘scare a little sense into those cityfolk’. Sounds sort of like the experience of using TC legal venues to obtain satisfaction for this pooped-upon, tax paying resident. He confided to me he actually fears the county will deploy eminent domain since he has the only local water source at five thousand feet for the collective use of the ranchers with grazing permits. He built the pond to have water for a vineyard and heirloom fruit production when he retires from his career.
Hilary Clinton’s clever play on words “The willing suspension of disbelief,” is more than relevant to this scurrilous scenario. I recommended that he write a letter to the ranchers and invite them to build a fence—good fences make good neighbors. I was glared at as a total moron. I have cattle ranching in my blood. My ancestors (thru marriage) ranched with permits in the Bighorns of Wyoming, known to more than a few as the infamous location of the Johnson County Range Wars. It was a big fight over barbed wire. To fence his land using a fencing contractor would cost 40K. That is more than it would cost the cowpokes even if the were inclined to do so… He is reluctant to proceed because it might suspend all grazing permits in our S.N. Forest and, quite obviously, would permanently destroy a way of life. Perhaps some philanthropic foundation or millionaire wannabe cowboy will pony up the loot for a fence. In our next installment, find out how it went from bad to worse during his day in court recently. Prepare for your ears to burn and your eyes to run when reading the letter.

 Obviously, this letter comprises my last appeal. In order to meet you half way, the best I can do is to offer to build half the required fence myself if you (collectively) supply the wire and do all gates and posts (I do my half of fence runs first and this offer stipulates you agree in written form within these three weeks). The design of this fence should allow indigenous invertebrates and concurrently stop cattle from intrusion. Keep in mind, this might be the cheapest fence you ever had to build and, coincidentally, it just rained this weekend (very relevant to any fencing since we have some offers of help).
Authors Additional Comments. Written in the Interest of Plausible Solutions, as Follows:
PS: Who knows if, by happenstance of this going public, a groundswell of cowboys and ‘Sierra Folk’ and ranchers drum up enough support to get federal funds (grant money) for materials…with the result of ‘all volunteers’ putting up fences as needed (dream-on style naivety perhaps, but stranger things have happened). Another symbiotic scenario and a
rather sage alternative would be to employ at risk and troubled youth (more grant money) as county fence builders (as well as any non-violent incarcerates). This job would give them hope and income, toughen them up and create an at-risk youth camp (environmental) tradition of utilizing and repairing our high Sierra in genuine stewardship fashion. In-other-words, a sentencing option for local prosecutorial situations (courts) where troubled, defiant or at-risk youth are offered more options. By combining the at-risk youth needs in the county/region and using it as an asset to solve a long standing problem of enforcing closed range ordinances you symbiotically resolve the issues (it would be highly cost effective, a model for environmental reparation, a revenue positive county option). Bad acting youth build the fence as recompense to society, as perhaps they should: go to jail, reform school or working for the High-Sierra Cattle Fencing Company, Inc. (staffed by punks and proud of it!). How quickly can we reduce incarceration budgets if those who qualify are building ‘remediation fence’ half the year? Parents could use the threat of work-camp; busting your butt installing for the High-Sierra fencing crews. The simple and irrepressible Sierra will rehabilitate them by paying them and giving them time-served, a strict but enjoyable outdoor time, while intrinsically providing dynamic strength and weight conditioning and challenging work building fences!

After over 12 years of conflicts and abuses of my rights as a landowner in the unincorporated Stanislaus National Forest, I had what might be called my day in court early in May, 2008 in Tuolumne County. Numerous ranchers who were grazing permit owners and others were present that day, as was one of the county’s current supervisors. My understanding of closed range (my property was ‘closed range’ when I bought it) was the primary reason for my attempt to stand up for my property rights. What took place on my day in court in no way resembled the written rules pertaining to my complaints. Furthermore, what I was told by the judge and what was recommended by the supervisor were clearly in violation of the entire concept of closed range and the county ordinances that are pertinent. To paraphrase Tuolumne County’s own board of supervisors who enacted the ordinances: A) ranchers with grazing permits are responsible for keeping cattle off properties where the owner has objected. B) Landowners DO NOT have to fence their property to keep livestock out. C) upon filing a complaint with TC animal control in 1998 to be sent to the TC’s District Attorney’s Office, the ‘Regional Forester, acting upon the advice from the Regional Range Program Manager and the Office of General Council in 1998, extracted two sentences from the ‘National Forest Policy statement, ostensibly to mitigate any language implicating them towards having to enforce their own rules.
The National Forest Policy clearly states: The United States is not responsible for intrusion of permitted livestock upon private lands nor for the settlement of controversies between livestock owners and landowners. The mitigation of any conflict was then described as a responsibility of civil court. In civil court I was told that the grazing permit owners will not be required to fence my property. The presiding judge then said that, having bought property in cattle grazing lands, I should have expected cattle on my property from time to time. The entire concept of closed range (all of Stanislaus National Forest is closed range) was unceremoniously stampeded in civil court! I was told to fence my own property, and even worse, to be certain if I did so to put the fence 100 feet inside my own property lines or the fence might become ‘damaged’. Every existing tenet of the current ordinances was ignored by the civil court. The supervisor, in an attempt to find common ground and to be ‘helpful’, recommended fencing my house and my spring fed pond to prevent any further damage by grazing range cattle. It was clear that not having an attorney present was a mistake on my part. Other things were said that will come up in a review of the court transcripts. My rights were not upheld in civil court. My research of options strongly indicates various legal options, including, but not limited to, sending in my written complaint to the Commission on Judicial Performance and obtaining a change of venue to another court.
I want my property fenced off by others to keep cattle out. I have an estimate indicating it would cost me about forty thousand to do so. With two mortgages and some very expensive medical costs I am not inclined to do so, ever. Legally, I don’t have to, ever. What took place in civil court was contrary to every ordinance regarding closed range. I was actually told things that seem to me to be in violation of the county ordinances. I will repeat this phrase once more, ‘CLOSED RANGE IS CLOSED RANGE, period! Allow me to preemptively apologize for being the eventual cause of a permanent suspension of all grazing rights in the Stanislaus National Forest. I actually lose sleep when considering the permanent end to a respectable and historical way of life. I believe the ranchers are reluctant to do any fencing due to the great numbers of landowners who might inevitably insist on their own fence. This is why this letter, my ‘last letter’, is being sent to those concerned entities who can urge the secretive installation of my fence. I remain wary of letting the cat out of the bag. Once released, it may spell the end of a way of life and is not something I want any part of. I even have friends who will fence the property line at a greatly reduced rate. I am relatively certain a judicial review might even result in the termination of a career or two (of course, I am not a legal beaver and I am simply guessing). Since I can’t afford legal costs, I have decided to enlist the help and counsel of numerous non-profits and have no doubts that, after reviewing my many years of documentation, they (collectively and/or individually) will provide pro bono legal assistance to further my cause. I advise all concerned to carefully scrutinize the following list of recipients of this missive, which will be in their hands exactly three weeks from the enclosed date.
Recipients will include the following: the National Resource Defense Council, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Forest Issues Group, Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, John Muir Project, Sierra Forest Legacy, Center for Biological Diversity, Central Sierra Environmental Research Council, Predator Conservation Alliance, Yosemite Area Audubon and a few other legal organizations. This letter will also accompany my written complaint to the Commission on Judicial Performance. Please be aware that several biologists will state that they have seen on and near my property a Pacific Fisher (endangered) and the central Sierra yellow-legged frog. I have personally seen the frog on two prior occasions! My spring fed pond was built by the forest service to facilitate central Sierra frog habitat! Do you really want this letter getting into the hands of these assertive environmentalists? As much as my recent treatment in court sickened me, do those present in any official capacity understand the implications of conducting a Kangaroo court? Tuolumne County has a history of operating their courts unlike the other courts in California…my recent experience supports this contention. Did you know that my property might also have some Mariposa Pussypaws? I have a grasslands biologist visiting soon to ascertain this species.
After the three week time limit, I intend to write another letter detailing my treatment in court and those statements and recommendations made which are in violation of the existing rules as I, an obvious layman, interpret them. I have refrained from detailing these events to allow all concerned parties time to ponder the possible results and repercussions of that civil court appearance. Those events will more than probably be reviewed by one or more attorneys retained by the numerous aforementioned non-profits.
Please respond in writing to the enclosed return address and include a return phone number and/or feel free to call me as quickly as your decisions are arrived at. Quite honestly, my patience is thin and you need to make a decision quickly. An eminent environmental consultant insisted that I write one more letter of intent. This letter was also recommended by friends and some of the officials in Tuolumne County who felt that an amicable solution would be the best solution. How do you think I would feel if grazing rights are destroyed? I don’t want that, ranchers and their cronies don’t want that, the TC court obviously doesn’t want it, and yet, every Eco/Green organization to be copied-in within three weeks does want it! Whereas I may be a small fly in the ointment, some of these groups are literally loaded for bear…. What you have here is an American who won’t buckle to what appears to be the time-honored tradition of legal maladaptation in bed with vested interest and cronyism as exemplified by the recent events in court. In summation, I reiterate my preemptive apologies for whatever arises from your lack of a cohesive and final solution to this long-standing problem.