WLSB focuses on outreach, enforcement
As cattle producers across the state prepare for their fall work, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) is making an effort to increase its visibility in the state by increasing its outreach efforts for the agency.
“We are focusing on outreach to both producers and law enforcement agencies, in particular Sheriff’s Offices, to build a network of communication and deter as much theft as we can,” says WLSB Director Steve True.
True notes that the agency’s focus on outreach was spurred, in part, by the direction of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, which met in May in Riverton.
“The interim committee lit the fire in our evaluation process to see where we are effective and where we aren’t. As we complete that evaluation, we have found that, first and foremost, outreach is an area we need to work on,” he adds, mentioning that livestock theft was a particular focus of the conversation.
Inside WLSB enforcement
Currently, the WLSB employs four law enforcement investigators across the state. Each is tasked with covering one-quarter of the state on cases related to theft, animal health violations, brand inspection violations, agency assist calls, animal welfare, roadside checks and reporting.
In the case of livestock theft, the WLSB generally receives notification that cattle are missing. If evidence of theft is present, the case is classified as rustling. Missing livestock cases can be upgraded to rustling if evidence is present.
Since 2004, the number of cases of rustling or missing livestock has primarily hovered in the 50s, with the highest number of cases in 2010 at 67. For 2012, 2013 and 2014, 51, 45 and 52 cases of rustling or missing livestock were reported, respectively.
In 2014-15, the WLSB reports that 351 bovine, three equine and 528 ovine were reported as rustling or missing.
“It should be noted that in cases of missing livestock that are found by the owner, at the neighbors’, came home or were otherwise located, we are very rarely notified that these animals have been found,” True says.
In his first steps toward improving WLSB outreach, True notes that he has begun to open the lines of communication between the agency and sheriffs around the state.
“I have tasked myself with visiting all 23 sheriffs, and I’m getting through that process,” he says, noting that he will have the opportunity to meet with several at once in late September. “I’ll work on building the relationship and opening up a conversation between law enforcement and the WLSB.”
True explains that he would like to establish how the WLSB can work with local law enforcement, as well as what each side can provide to more effectively protect livestock throughout the state.
Additionally, he hopes to draw producers into that conversation to continue to establish relationships between producers and law enforcement to protect livestock.
“The sheriffs I have spoken to so far are enthusiastic in building our relationship,” True says. “They want to use our guys for training.”
In addition, True comments that the WLSB’s enforcement arm is spread thin, and sheriffs across the state understand they are likely to be the first responders in livestock theft cases.
In addition to reaching out to law enforcement, True and the WLSB are also working with producers and producer groups to increase awareness about cattle theft in the state.
“There are a couple of things that producers can do to protect themselves against theft,” True notes. “First, livestock owners should look at their operation as if they were a thief. They should look at their weaknesses.”
For example, he asks producers to consider the location of their shipping pens and whether gates are locked.
“Can someone get in and out without knowing it?” he asks. “Are gates locked? That is inconvenient, but if someone goes to the trouble to cut a chain or a lock, it gives us some evidence.”
In addition, locked gates or pens within sightline of a house may deter thieves.
Anyone interested in more theft-prevention tips or a presentation by the WLSB should contact the agency.
“We are more than willing to present at meetings, visit with groups of producers or visit one-on-one to talk about how to prevent cattle theft,” True comments.
In the case that producers come up with missing livestock, True notes that they shouldn’t hesitate to inform the WLSB or law enforcement.
“If cattle are missing or producers think they are missing, don’t be worried about letting us know early,” he explains. “We understand that someone might think they missed a few or they are at the neighbor’s, but give us a heads up. We can start the process. If the cattle turn up, they can call us back and let us know.”
“There are too many opportunities for cattle to be gone if we don’t know right away,” True adds, mentioning that livestock are more likely to be sold over time.
“The biggest problem in solving theft cases is that livestock are easily sold,” he says. “The brand line is only six or seven hours away, and in some cases, it is closer. Cattle can trade hands three or four times in tow weeks, and at that point, they are difficult to trace.”
After notifying authorities, True notes that producers should attempt to preserve the scene and any evidence that might be present until the sheriff arrives.
True mentions that producers should be diligent in protecting their livestock and take all steps possible to avoid theft.
The WLSB is taking steps to continue to educate producers on the possibility of theft and how to prevent theft.
“With the price of cattle on the hoof and beef in the case, the opportunity and motivation are there for a potential increase in cattle theft activity,” True comments. “Our push is to try to get in front of this.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.