MY VOICE: Hang ’em high on Glass Hill Road? Let’s not
My name is Douglas Byers and I had a herder’s camp next to Dr. Joel Rice’s place on Glass Hill Road from April to November 2012. I lived, cooked, worked and slept outdoors up there every day from spring snowmelt to the first heavy snow of that fall. If there is anyone that knows the daily movements of sky, wildlife and cattle in that area, I’d wager it’s me.
When I moved my livestock operation next to Dr. Rice’s place, we had several long conversations about land use. He told me he wanted to bring back native plants that would in turn attract more wildlife to the area. It was clearly a personal passion. He said that in the past, cattle had overgrazed his land and that his goal was to give the place a chance to recover. He mentioned he had supported two state ordinances making his ground legally “closed to grazing.”
Having worked cattle, horses and sheep in three western states, I knew this was an unusual situation and one that would not be popular with most local cattle owners, but I had to respect the guy cause that’s the way I was brought up. My Dad always said, “The world would be as boring as bad gravy, son, if everyone agreed on every subject. You gotta respect the person even if you disagree with ’em.”
Dr. Rice’s property is a big chunk of ground. What separates it from the locked-up-and-posted properties that surround it is that he insisted that it remain open to the public, for both recreation and hunting.
When I saw cattle on his place, I would call Dr. Rice. At first, he responded by saying, “OK, I’ll give the owners a call,” which he did. After the first four or five calls however, he told me, “This has been going on for five years, I just don’t have the time to keep calling them.” Over the summer I learned that there were other landowners up there who were constantly having trouble with stray cattle damaging their properties.
I also discovered that Rice had serious poaching problems on his property. I was there and I saw it happen again and again. Ugly events, like after dark spotlighting, shooting from vehicles, leaving wounded animals to die, finding elk with the hindquarters hacked off and the rest left to rot. And damn-straight I called the sheriff’s office when I saw that. In the face of these illegal events, I was amazed that he hadn’t closed his land to the public. Dr. Rice’s level of tolerance amazed me again and again.
I’m not saying that the best solution was to shoot those cows. That was flat out, no excuses wrong. What I am saying is that every man or woman has his or her limit when being pushed around and disrespected. To me, it seemed Rice was repeatedly being slapped and was choosing to repeatedly turn the other cheek. I remember asking Rice if he’d ever prosecuted any of the trespassing cattle owners. His answer was “no.” It’s also worth noting that Dr. Rice has voluntarily made restitution with all parties involved, to their full
Dr. Rice’s personal mission of community service reaches far beyond his private practice. He runs three sober living houses in addition to Grande Ronde Recovery, a detox program for heroin and opiate pill addicts. Given all Dr. Rice offers to people in need in our valley, I would say we need more guys like this in our community.
This unfortunate event doesn’t just reflect the anger and frustration of one man, but the anger and frustration of many of us. If we choose to ignore our neighbors boundaries, we show disrespect for their personal rights. That disrespect in turn tears down the collective, moral fabric of our community.
If we focus only on attacking Dr. Rice for his outburst, we miss the point. From my saddle, the point of this situation is that we need to respect our neighbors, their different perspectives and their boundaries. A healthy community requires respect, compassion, understanding and forgiveness.
Now, pass that gravy.
Douglas Byers, 58, is a herdsman from La Grande.
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