By Melissa Simon
State law now bars convicted thieves from registering brands
Despite the recent passage of stiffer punishments for cattle rustlers statewide, livestock theft is still alive and kicking in Humboldt County, according to officials.
John Suther, a special investigator with the state's Bureau of Livestock Identification said there have been around three or four cases of stolen cattle in Humboldt County in the last three years.
"The most recent case came to us either at the end of last year or early this year, and involved 30 head of missing cattle," Suther said. "Statewide, this year we have a reported 750 head of cattle stolen, which is down from last year when we saw around 1,350 stolen. The numbers are lower for several reasons, including the drought — meaning less cattle came into California — and the fact that people are watering and feeding their cattle everyday, giving thieves less of an opportunity to steal."
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Livestock Deputy Kevin Kastler said reported cases of stolen cattle in Humboldt County were few and far between, but with the high price of beef, unreported numbers could be skyrocketing.
"There are a lot of ranchers around here and they won't make a report if one or two head are missing because the cow could've wandered off or died from natural causes," said Kastler, who has been a livestock deputy for just over a year. "The most recent report is the first one for me. Basically, the victim came in and reported that cattle had been taken over in the Weitchpec area. One truck came, picked up a certain amount and another truck came a couple days later."
Kastler added the investigation is still ongoing.
With cases like this and others across the state, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1772 into law on July 16, and now those convicted of livestock theft will be barred from holding a registered brand in California for five years, according to Suther.
"Last year, the governor signed another bill that had a $5,000 fine associated with it, so this year's bill adds to that penalty, which usually includes probation," Suther said. "This new bill gives more teeth and allows us to monitor convicted thieves more closely. All brands have to be registered with us, so we wouldn't register a thief's brand or if they already had a brand, we'd cancel it. They would also have to notify us every time they were moving cattle, even if it were just down the street and if they don't tell us, there'd be additional penalties that would increase with each offense. Additionally, we'd get to look at any calves they'd be selling and see if they own the calf's mother and whether they have proof of ownership."
Kastler said the thieves could also be subject to jail time, but with overcrowding problems most just get probation.
"Usually there's a serious fine attached to cow rustling" Kastler said. "So being barred from registering their brand is another addition."
Suther said he hopes the bill will keep thieves from taking the cattle, He added that about 20 percent of reported stolen cattle are ever found and returned.
"Now there's going to be a bigger deterrent than just the probation with the bar from registering a brand," Suther said. "With the fine, there's more teeth and thieves are going to get hit in the wallet now, too."