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Trespassers cost farmers thousands

Washington County Farm Bureau hands out cash rewards to two men who helped solve rural vandalism cases

Trampled fields, busted pipes and stolen metal.

They're inconveniences all too common in rural Washington County where, trodden plants and water lines ravaged by metal thieves mean expensive time and money losses for area farmers.

The rural setting also means that finding the culprits is often like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

That's why the Oregon Farm Bureau offers $1,000 to anyone who produces case-solving information on certain crimes committed on farms and ranches owned by bureau members.

'While some people see just a field or even a playground, these crops represent our livelihood,' said Cornelius farmer Dave Vanasche. 'We have to make people aware that destructive behavior on farmland is going to cost them.'

On April 15, the Washington County Farm Bureau handed out checks to Steven Vuylsteke and Bob VanderZanden, two local farmers who helped police prosecute two recent cases of vandalism on Vanache's farm.

In January, Vuylsteke reported a man whose pickup truck got stuck in Vanache's field of perennial rye grass.

The man behind the wheel said he decided to bypass a road closure by running through the field, but instead his truck got stuck. He offered Vuylsteke cash to help him out of the ruts, but Vuylsteke called the police instead.

'I didn't know there was a Farm Bureau reward program - I would have turned him in anyway,' said Vuylsteke, a grass seed farmer in Cornelius.

'It helps if people are aware of rural crime. They should call the police if they see something that's not right, like a vehicle in a field that shouldn't be there,' Vuylsteke said.

The truck damaged about 130 yards of Vanasche's perennial ryegrass field, with an estimated value of $1,610.

Lyle Spiesschaert's also had his fair share of run-ins with vandals in his fields north of Forest Grove.

'I bring almost all of my aluminum pipe right into where I live because they've been cutting it up the past couple years,' Spiesschaert said.

'There's increasing concern about trespass and the liability associated with it,' Spiesschaert said.

In June of 2006, Bob VanderZanden helped apprehend an ATV-driving vandal who damaged Vanasche's property.

For six weeks the man had been driving an ATV through farmland between Cornelius and North Plains, destroying fescue, perennial rye grass, and red clover crops in his wake.

But no one had been able to catch him.

After another sighting by Vanasche, VanderZanden went to investigate the area where the driver seemed to disappear. He found the garage where the ATV was parked. The next day, VanderZanden and Vanasche again saw the driver ripping through the fields and directed police to his home.

Approximately $7,500 in damage was caused to Vanasche's fields. Total damage, including that of neighboring farms, reached about $10,000.

The Farm Bureau also recognized the Washington County Sheriff and District Attorney's offices for their work on the investigations.

After the checks were distributed on April 15, Vanasche noted that 'The Washington County District Attorney's office and Sheriff's Department have been very cooperative with us on these cases of rural crime. We wanted to thank them tonight for all the good work they do.'