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Guest Editorial 
This page was last updated on January 06, 2009 .

What About Public Property Rights?
by: Christopher Christie 8/1/02

The following letter was printed yesterday (7/31/02) in the Blue Mountain Eagle, in Grant County, Oregon. Some of the references in this letter may be a bit obscure for those living outside of Grant County, but it relates to recent letters from public lands ranchers and others who had hoped for prosecution of government employees for "trespassing" on a ranch to place water quality monitoring equipment in the north fork of the John Day River. A rancher wrote that government employees had no respect for private "property rights," etc., while the employees said it was due to a misunderstanding. The last sentence refers to a trial last year where a local jury acquitted a local rancher for shooting and killing his neighbors dog on the neighbors property. It is my belief that the then district attorney was removed in a subsequent recall due to her willingness to prosecute a rancher, that is, for believing in the equal application of, and protection under, the law.

July 28, 2002

To the Editor
David Clarkhuff
The Blue Mountain Eagle
195 N. Canyon Blvd.
John Day, OR 97845
FAX 575-1244

What about public property rights?

Dear Editor,

To read letters from public lands ranchers complaining about "Disrespect for private property rights," while calling for prosecution of "dishonest" government employees, is enough to make anyone who knows something about public lands ranching fall to the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter. Talk about chutzpah!

What about public property rights?

Not a grazing season goes by without some rancher's cattle trespassing on Forest Service or BLM public property, often trashing areas that are being restored, or areas that are being given a critically needed rest from chronic grazing abuse. The reason many riparian areas and riparian dependent species are in such dire straits is largely due to long term disrespect of public property and public ecosystems by ranchers (and in some cases other extractive interests). Oddly enough, these ranchers operate under the sympathetic and not so watchful eyes of the very government employees they criticize. Many of the Federal employees responsible for monitoring the grazing (ab)use are from ranching families themselves, so maybe it really does take one to know one. Ranchers who show respect for public property rights do not trespass on areas where they are not supposed to be and they don't leave public ecosystems looking like nuclear test sites.

Respect for private property rights?

Most rancher's views about respect for private property rights seem to depend on who is doing the trespassing and who owns the property. Originally, property was acquired by coercive means from Native Americans during the period we could refer to as the mother of all disrespect for property rights. Today, if you are a government employee who accidentally strays on to private property, some ranchers howl that you should be prosecuted, persecuted, and no doubt, booted out of the county. If you are a rancher, however, whose cows are slogging around in your unfenced neighbor's stream out on the "open range," they think you should get a free pass. Outside of incorporated cities and other grazing districts, when cattle happen to gravitate towards someone else's private property to destroy plant communities willy nilly and steal a little "forage" - i.e. trespass - the rancher is largely unaccountable and the victimized property owner is forced to swallow the loss and fence them out at his own expense. It is a testimony to the power of ranchers that, in much of the State of Oregon, hogs are not permitted to "run at large or upon the property of another person," but cows are, if you don't fence them out. The laws are written for ranchers to protect ranchers - not the private property rights of all.

I am left wondering what all the fuss is about concerning the misplaced monitoring equipment. Why would someone object to having the quality of precious water resources monitored on their property?

Finally, I am thankful that the District Attorney chose not to prosecute. Aside from the silliness of the idea and the waste of money, a fair jury trial for environmentally sensitive individuals in Grant County is about as likely as a jury convicting a rancher of shooting a neighbor's dog.

Christopher Christie
Prairie City, OR