Clift Jordan began ranching in Rush Valley, Tooele County, in 1952. But if vandalism continues at its present rate, he said, he worries he will be driven out.
"If we don't get a handle on it, you can't stay in business through this," the 60-year-old Lehi resident said Friday in a telephone interview.The latest serious vandalism on his enormous holdings happened on Jan. 17. Two beef cows, both pregnant, were killed by a 9mm handgun. The vandals apparently started to butcher one but were scared off for some reason and abandoned the carcass in the midst of the butchering.
They were "right young cows, just getting ready to have their calves," he said. One cow was shot 10 or 12 times, and the blood track showed where "she wandered around . . . 'till she finally went down."
He estimates the loss at $3,000 total, counting the calves. Meanwhile, he fears that more of the 400 cattle on his spread may have been shot. "I won't know 'till I gather them," he said. He plans to round up the herd around Feb. 25.
But the cattle shootings are only the latest in a growing plague of vandalism. Jordan estimates that he has lost $25,000 to $30,000 in damaged property in the past two years.
"There's people running all over out there, shootin' up everything they can shoot," he said. "They're just destroying a lot of my personal property out there, water tanks and water troughs, fences, you name it."
Troughs and pipes have been torn out or shot through with numerous bullet holes. Juniper posts on fence gates have been blasted apart by people too lazy to unlatch the fence wire and open the gates.
"Some of these storage tanks are cement. They've even shot 6 inches of cement, kept shooting at the same spot, trying to bust those," he said. "That only costs $15,000 or $20,000 to put in. Now they've started on the livestock."
Jordan blames the vandalism on rabbit hunters. This year, the rabbit population of Rush Valley is especially high, so more hunters than usual are driving through.
"Those no-good hunters, they don't have any respect for anybody's property," he said. "On weekends, I can't get around on my property for people shooting."
Another reason the vandalism is so bad this year, he speculates, is that there are more people with idle time. "Nothing to do but go out and destroy somebody's property. My neighbors are having the same kinds of problems."
Tensions over environmental disputes were cited by some as a cause of an infamous spree of cattle shooting in the Escalante River region of southern Utah in March 1990, although environmentalists decried the killings and no perpetuator was ever discovered. But in this case, the rancher doesn't think there is any environmental involvement.
The Utah Farm Bureau asked him whether he thought environmentalists were involved, he said. "I don't think so," he told the Deseret News.
"I don't know, of course - I'm not one of them."
Any sort of sign put up on his range will last only about a day before it is blasted by shots, he said. "They'll shoot that to pieces.
"The BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management) put some road signs out there to direct (people to) different areas, and they didn't last overnight."
The Tooele County Road Department put up signs warning of curves, and "they lasted a day. Just target practicing," Jordan said.
Glenn Foreman, public affairs officer for the BLM's Salt Lake District, said he had a sign in his office, which was recently put up, and almost immediately shot up. It has holes of three or four different calibers.
"We've had an increase in vandalism on public lands, particularly our signs," Foreman said. "They're quite expensive. We're getting quite a lot of holes in them."
Some of the signs were made by high school students working on volunteer projects.
Because of the destroyed signs, "people are losing their directions in the desert . . . It'd be a shame if people continued to shoot those things up."
Meanwhile, Jordan has men watching for vandals on his property, which covers 62 square-mile sections of land.
"Now I've got to spend my weekend there, just patrolling roads," he said.
Asked what he'd do if he came across a vandal, he said, "I'll just have to take their license number, and go get the sheriff." With nearly all the hunters armed, and some possibly drugged, he worries about what might happen if he, his son or one of his men were to confront a vandal.
Utah Farm Bureau Federation executive vice president C. Booth Wallentine says the bureau is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone providing information that results in conviction of those responsible for shooting cattle in Rush Valley.
Brent Tanner, executive vice president of the Utah Cattlemens Association, said that group also will offer a reward.
Anyone with information about the shooting of livestock or property on the public range may call a 24-hour hotline, 539-4084. Anonymous tips are welcome.