By Tim Woodward
Where a city person sees a herd of generic cattle, Lynn Gibson sees breeds, brands, earmarks and tags identifying each cow and its owner.
Ownership has become an issue in the 2,800 square miles he roams as an Idaho brand inspector. Cattle rustling, a crime usually associated with the Old West, is alive and well there.
A mirror of hard times, rustling is thought to be responsible for the disappearance of more than 2,000 cows in Oregon, Nevada and Idaho since 2007. Other neighboring states have reported smaller losses.
In Idaho, the hot spot is the Indian Valley area, part of Gibson's two-county territory. Rustlers are suspected of stealing more than 300 cows worth more than $250,000 there in two years.
"It's almost impossible to catch them at it, " he says. "It's not like a busted window. Somebody breaks your window, you know it. You don't have to break a window to steal a cow. It can be plumb out of the country before you even know it's missing."
Idaho is one of 12 states that employ brand inspectors like Gibson, who ensure that brands are legally registered and the animals bearing them are in the possession of their registered owners. All 12 are in the West.
"They can get away without inspectors back East, where cattle are confined, " he said. "In a state as wide open as Idaho, with cattle turned out to range, you'd be lucky to get any cows back if you didn't have brand inspectors." More....