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
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.
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.
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."
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
"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
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.
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
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
"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
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
Tony Davis report from