There is an increasing tendency among livestock in the eastern Oregon region to wander further for food as drought and fire have taken a toll in traditional dining areas.
Sometimes, they travel onto property now owned by the animals' rancher.
"Our conditions east of the Cascades will continue to cause animals to be out of pasture sooner and looking for better quality fed in a neighbor's field," warns Rodger Huffman, Oregon Department of Agriculture Animal Identification Program chief.
Fire in the last two years has destroyed fencing and other structures in some east state locations, he notes, that normally would have kept livestock enclosed. A general lack of moisture in that region of the state has caused the range grasses and other feed sources to be inadequate for the animals.
That combination, says Huffman, has created a greater potential for livestock to stray, even in open range, where potential landowner conflicts can arise.
"There is a perception that anybody else's animals that encroach on your private property are trespassing, and that's where the rub is," says Huffman.
In an August incident, a La Grande man was charged with seven counts of aggravated animal abuse and first degree criminal mischief after allegedly killing six cows with a gun. The animals had wondered onto his property.
The area, once classified as open range, had been designated a livestock district, creating a closed range area. While technically the animals were trespassing, the law provides no justification for shooting them.
"There are other avenues to resolve the issue," says Huffman.
But the shooting underscores the confusion that exists over Oregon's open range law and a person's responsibility to either keep animals fenced in our fenced out. Open range allows livestock to lawfully run at-large.
The burden is on the property owner to keep them out rather than on livestock owner to keep them in, explains Huffman.