Dispatches, March 1997
"My god!" cries Robert Sproul, an 82-year-old Oregon cattle rancher. "They were just innocent cows."
Innocent or not, 11 of Sproul's cattle were gunned down by one of the state's most outspoken environmentalists. Dr. Patrick Shipsey, 44, chief petitioner for a statewide ballot measure to ban cattle from streams, faces 11 felony counts in connection with the demise of Sproul's cows in late October. Days later, voters dissed his "clean streams initiative" by a 65-35 margin. Shipsey's case goes to trial this spring, and though he's confessed to the charges, the doctor seems unrepentant, saying his bullets provided "an answer to a system that flagrantly violates my constitutional rights."
That is, a system that allowed the cows to crap on Shipsey's land. Under Grant County's "open range" law, cattle can wander anywhere that's unfenced. Sproul's cows regularly moseyed onto Shipsey's 960-acre private wildlife refuge. "Shooting them," he says, "was a relief."
If convicted of all charges, Shipsey could receive up to 55 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. His lawyer, Dennis Hachler, says he'd prefer to settle, assuring that Sproul would receive financial restitution--a promise that has the elderly rancher sounding rather sanguine. "They were going to the butcher anyway," Sproul concedes. "Either way, they're dead, aren't