It’s a problem that no one wants to touch. Literally.
There are 10 to 15 cattle carcasses floating in Owyhee Reservoir in Malheur County, Ore. — the result of heavy snow burying their winter forage and ranchers’ inability to reach the livestock with food, according to the Malheur County sheriff.
The carcasses are spread out in the water, making it harder for those spending time at the reservoir to avoid. The animals are between Dry Creek and Watson, Sheriff Brian Wolfe said.
The sheriff’s office became aware of the floating cattle on Sunday.
“We’re not sure whose responsibility it is,” to remove the carcasses, Wolfe said. “Nobody else wants anything to do with it, so it ends up being the sheriff.”
Wolfe is going to send his marine deputy out this week to asssess the situation, and then they’ll come up with a solution.
Wolfe said the carcasses are alarming to recreationists who don’t know what caused their deaths — about 10 or 12 people contacted the sheriff’s office today.
He wants to assure the public that the livestock didn’t die due to neglect or abuse.
“There’s probably a couple thousands cows out there on winter range,” he said. “Some did perish because of the deep snow, and the ranchers weren’t able to get to them ... They were trying to get to these animals.”
The animals died in the reservoir area when the water was low. When the water came up, they began to float.
Wolfe is not sure how he’ll get the heavy carcasses out of the water or what to do with them after getting them out. He’s ruled out using a helicopter due to the cost.
It’s a vast reservoir, which is 53 miles long — the centerpiece of Lake Owyhee State Park. What about somehow submerging the carcasses?
Wolfe said some probably won’t like the idea of decomposing livestock at the bottom of the reservoir, and “you don’t know what kind of health concern that might prove to be.” This is a quandary he hadn’t anticipated.
“Folks don’t realize what comes with the office of sheriff. It’s a lot more than cops and robbers,” he said.