Ranch’s Neighbors Have A Cow Wandering Cattle Create Clash Between Old West, New
Rosemary Dickson has a 1,500-pound beef with her cattleman neighbor Kevin McGrath.
Several of them, in fact.
Dickson and her non-ranching neighbors thought they’d grown used to shooing McGrath’s occasional grazing cow off their manicured, tree-rimmed lawns above the Spokane River.
Until this year.
“You ever had 40 cows in your yard at once?” asked Dickson, a 63-year-old Signal Point Road resident. “It’s something else. I’m sick of it.”
So many cows had wandered onto neighbors’ property this summer that by the tail end of grazing season, residents wanted to carve their unwanted guests into T-bones.
“The cows eat all the fruit off the fruit trees,” said Dickson’s daughter and neighbor Charlene Beamer. “They poop on the lawn. They eat the vegetables in the garden. Some charge you when you try to herd them.”
Kootenai County authorities are hearing increasing complaints of conflicts between livestock and homeowners, making it the latest skirmish in the cultural war between the Old West and new. The problem grows more acute as residents of growing cities such as Post Falls move into traditionally rural parts of the county.
In Dickson’s rural area west of Post Falls, the battle has reached a fever pitch and is pitting neighbor against neighbor.
“I’ve had people threaten to shoot me,” said McGrath, 37. “I’ve had my cows locked up. Now they’re trying to shut me down.”
One of his cows is dead and rotting in a neighbor’s yard. Kootenai County Animal Control Officer Dusty Rhoads believes the animal was shot.
Non-ranchers blame Idaho’s long-standing open range law, which allows cattle to wander freely on private land unless homeowners fence them out. The law also prevents homeowners from harming livestock that wander into a back yard or garden.
“It’s my land, but I can’t touch them,” Beamer said. “How western is that?”
Those residents are banding together to have their area placed into a “herd district.” That would require McGrath to fence his cattle in.
“It’s a prehistoric law,” said McGrath neighbor Don Peterson, referring to the open range rule. “It was put into place when there were only two or three people on this hill. We’ve grown up.”
Open range includes populated areas near Hayden Lake and Rathdrum and covers about half of the county. Tension between livestock owners and their neighbors isn’t new. In fact, decades ago, horses caused thousands of dollars in damage when they grazed on the golf course in Avondale, said Sheriff’s Deputy Glen Weeks.
Livestock owners across the county blame encroaching development and greedy builders.
Rapid home building here has bitten into once spacious rural land, crowding out ranches. The number of cows raised in the county plummeted from 11,500 in 1979 to about 7,000 today.
“They (developers) come in and make their million bucks and they’re gone,” said rancher Cliff Lenz, who runs 145 head of cattle near Blue Creek. “They don’t care if they build on top of me or all around me.”
Retired cattleman Wilbur Mead said newcomers often aren’t prepared for life in the country.
“Many people move to the country but don’t want to live by country ways,” he said. “They want to bring the city with them.”
McGrath, a likable rancher who makes his living as a computer software development manager in Spokane, lets his herd of 40 to 65 head roam the luscious green public and private hillsides west of the river to fatten up for fall.
He admits this year’s heifers have grown unruly and his work schedule has made it harder for him to keep them under control.
“Some years are worse than others,” he said.
Neighbor Peterson agrees, but is too angry to accept McGrath’s busy schedule as an excuse. He said he’s already lost four trees and several clay pots this year to McGrath’s traveling heifers.
“They leave tracks all over the yard,” he said. “The other morning they were on my deck eating dog food out of the dog’s dish.
“And the flies … ” he said.
Peterson would chase the cows only to have Dickson or someone else chase them back.
“They’re big, slow movers and they don’t want to move when they’re hungry,” he said.
McGrath said he’s worked hard to retrieve cows that have wandered onto neighbors’ property - despite not having to by law. He also points out that he’s offered to help neighbors build fences.
“They just don’t seem interested in spending the money,” he said.
Peterson estimated the cost of fencing his five acres at $5,000.
Dickson, meanwhile, is convinced it wouldn’t stop the cows.
“You can’t keep them out of where they want to be in,” she said.
McGrath spent recent days rounding up his herd and running them back to the corral. The problem, for now, is solved.
He hopes to meet with neighbors and offer a compromise before they squeeze him from the range, he said.
“It’s not just part of my livelihood,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle. And I’d be very saddened to see it go.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: UNWELCOME VISITORS “They leave tracks all over the yard. The other morning they were on my deck eating dog food out of the dog’s dish.”
This sidebar appeared with the story: UNWELCOME VISITORS “They leave tracks all over the yard. The other morning they were on my deck eating dog food out of the dog’s dish.”