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Idaho Town Refuses to Be Cowed by a Free-Ranging Herd

An agreement is worked out to keep stock out of city limits and erect a fence to corral strays.

January 26, 2003|Nicholas K. Geranios | Associated Press Writer

BOVILL, Idaho — Rural Idaho is a place where cattle roam free, but residents of this mountain hamlet are tired of being cowed by a recalcitrant rancher whose herd is tearing up the town.

Locals say Lloyd Lee Hall allows his cattle to wander through town, stomp gardens, eat flowers and knock over satellite dishes. The bovines scratch themselves against vehicles and homes.

"Not to mention the droppings they leave everywhere they go," Mayor Brad Dorendorf said. "I've seen a lot of cows in Bovill, but I've never seen one with a diaper."

The cattle are kept at a ranch that is adjacent to town -- and that does not have good fences. So the town went to court demanding that Hall keep his cattle home on the range, instead of ranging near their homes.

Hall contended that vandals were releasing his cows. He also contended that not all the cows that invade Bovill belong to him.

At stake in this cattle battle is peace of mind for the 300 residents of this downtrodden town, where many of the homes are trailers, many of the roads are dirt and the only tennis court lacks a net.

But rural Idaho is also subject to an open-range law, allowing cattle to roam and graze. For years, residents have been told that those who want to keep cows out must build their own fences.

Cliff Christie said it was depressing to learn that under Idaho law, he has fewer rights than cattle. "I pay taxes," Christie said. "I put up 'No Trespassing' signs. These cows do what they please."

The protests are a chorus: Cattle soil the schoolyard, posing a health hazard to children. A pond is trampled and punctured. A town RV park for tourists finds its expensive landscaping trashed. Schoolchildren fear walking home from the bus stop.

Cheryl Cromer sometimes gets up in the middle of the night and uses her car to herd the cattle out of town. She said many townsfolk are reluctant to challenge Hall, a former mayor who spent five decades on the City Council and who owns many of the homes in Bovill.

"He's got a lot of people buffaloed that owe him money," Cromer said.

Hall, 77, also owns several businesses, including the building that houses the town's lone grocery. He holds the only liquor license in town.

Hall did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

Residents recently threw a leather-bound lawbook at Hall, persuading Latah County to issue five citations contending that Hall broke a local misdemeanor cow-at-large ordinance.

In mid-January, the two sides negotiated a settlement in which Hall agreed to fence his property and contribute $300 so that the town government could erect a corral to hold any cows that enter the city limits.

"We resolved it very practically, as neighbors should, and not as adversaries," said Hall's attorney, John Judge of nearby Moscow. "I think things are going to go pretty smoothly from here."

Dorendorf has little confidence that Hall will abide by the settlement.

"The likelihood that cattle will be back in the city limits of Bovill is almost a given," Dorendorf said. "... Most likely we will have to end up back in court."

There are also questions about the extent to which the open-range law applies here. Bovill is an incorporated city, but it may be up to its residents to fence off the entire town if they want to be cow pie-free.

"You get mad at your neighbor for having a dog that is doing his business in your yard," Dorendorf said. "But if your neighbor has got a 3,000-pound bull doing his business, it's a problem."

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