Cattle rustling or crop raiding might seem like a relic of the Wild West, but in the San Joaquin Valley and surrounding foothills, cattle theft is on the rise. So much so that it's inspired a new bill that would beef up fines for stealing livestock.
The bill passed through both the Senate and the Assembly Friday with unanimous, bi-partisan support. The bill would establish a $5,000 fine for anyone convicted of livestock theft.
“It’s has been a growing concern because of with the increases in value that we’ve seen in recent times, people are stealing even more," said Republican Assembly Member Frank Bigelow who authored AB 924, and who himself is a cattle rancher in Madera County.
The bill merges two sections of existing law focusing on living and dead livestock into one – and adds the fine. If the bill becomes law, the proceeds would go to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Bureau of Livestock Identification, with the hopes of closing current livestock theft cases and preventing future theft.
“This will help all livestock, whether you’re a bunny, whether you’re a goat producer, whether you’ve got a mule, a horse, sheep, lamb, hogs, it will help all of those producers through the same mechanism,” say Bigelow.
Ryan Jacobsen with the Fresno County Farm Bureau says the bill’s unanimous approval was a feat for the ag industry. He says the loss of even one or two animals is a detriment to the rancher.
“It doesn’t take the crime of to many animals being stolen from an individual family that it makes a huge dent in their bottom line," Jacobsen said.
Justin Greer, a valley rancher and president of the Tulare County Cattlemen’s Association says that AB924 is a step in the right direction. He says Bigelow’s support of the bill was crucial.
“He’s cognizant of the issues we are facing," Greer says. "It was great to have one of our own introduce a bill and champion it and to protect ourselves and our commodity."
Greer says that in 2012 cattle theft cost California ranchers around $1 million. He hopes that could drop if the bill becomes law.
The bill now heads to Governor Brown for his signature.