Sublette County Sheriff’s Department to build team to address livestock theft
Marbleton – With the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) now down to one investigator to cover the whole state, county sheriff’s departments are being asked to take the lead in investigating reports of missing livestock.
Sublette County Sheriff KC Lehr addressed Green River Cattlemen’s Association (GRVCA) members with an update on March 3 during the GRVCA’s annual meetings, held at the Marbleton Town Hall.
“I’ve helped with a few cattle drives and brandings,” Lehr said, “but I was not brought up on a ranch.”
At the same time, as of Sept. 1, 2017, WLSB’s enforcement staff was cut to just one investigator, Ken Richardson, who was initially posted to cover the Sublette County area, Lehr asked ranchers present to “work with us and be patient” on missing livestock cases.
Missing livestock cases
“In the past, we would fill out a report and forward it to WLSB investigators,” he explained. “We have a lot to learn about this process.”
He told ranchers, “I understand this is your livelihood and your livelihood is important to me. If there is a profit to be made, some criminal entity will try to get their hand in there.”
Lehr said more than 30,000 missing livestock were reported in 2017 across Wyoming, and less than 30 percent were recovered. Recently in Sublette County, 90 head were stolen from the Merna area and 40 heifers were taken from south of LaBarge.
The producer short 90 head almost didn’t report them missing, thinking they might have been killed by predators.
“A missing livestock report doesn’t mean they’re stolen,” said Lehr, adding if some livestock turns up, both the WLSB and the sheriff’s office would like to know.
Lehr said he would like to have two deputies investigate missing livestock reports. One would have a ranching background and be comfortable about getting into a stock trailer to check brands. The other would be good at working traffic stops and mandatory checkpoints.
“We do not have to have ‘probable cause’ to stop for checking livestock,” he said. “We have 21 sworn officers, but the majority wouldn’t even know where to look for a brand, so we want them to have as much training as possible.”
Someone commented, “When we find out we have 30 head of heifers missing, it’s already too late.”
Lehr said that it isn’t, commenting, “We can always go back and find those cattle that had your brand or if they’ve been branded over.”
A larger effort can be made with the Western States Livestock Investigators Association and perhaps a task force, he added, saying, “It gives us that much more reach.”
Asked if the Wyoming Highway Patrol would be working with deputies, Lehr said he would like troopers who are out there checking paperwork to be part of a task force.
As for other counties around the state, Lehr said, “It’s in the works. We need money and manpower.”
Later, Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan reported on behalf of WLSB Director Steve True and Richardson – neither of who could be at the meeting. He reinforced Lehr’s message of reporting missing livestock early on.
“If producers notice missing livestock, please report it,” Logan said. “It might be 10 head that show up tomorrow or next week, but we would rather get word early, as soon as the owner notices something isn’t right, whether it’s one or 100, sheep, cattle or horses.”
Logan said WLSB has heard complaints about the lack of law enforcement activity and equates that to lack of staff. Investigations have to be prioritized along with the WLSB’s other functions.
“We can’t be every place we should be,” Logan said. “We are doing the best job we can to protect the ownership of livestock and the health of the livestock industry.”
Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and reporter for the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.