Metal thieves in Umatilla County have taken to swiping scrap piles off personal property, Sheriff Terry Rowan said, and not just targeting large agricultural operations.

Farms have long been targets for metal thieves, who steal everything from brass sprinkler heads to thousands of feet of irrigation pipe. But lately the plunderers have found easier targets in the county — piles of loose metal out of easy view. Rowan said those thefts can be tough to solve.

“The difficulty is in linking the metal back to the victim,” Rowan said. “It’s so random and kind of unidentifiable, more or less.”

Rural residents and businesses in Umatilla, Hermiston and Milton-Freewater reported metal rustlers making off with piles within the last month. The crop management company Pacific Ag of Hermiston reported the biggest theft:?materials worth $25,000-$35,000 went missing over a period of a few weeks. No one from the company returned a call Tuesday seeking comment.

But smaller targets have been more typical, such as the Umatilla man Friday who said someone stole a metal table, parts to a tractor and more. On Monday, a Milton-Freewater area man reported the theft of a tractor attachment and a water pump.

The local metal often ends up out of state. Neither Idaho nor Washington have the reporting requirements for buying scrap metal that Oregon has. Metal, like other commodities, varies in price depending on the market, but the price continues to be high enough to entice thieves. Some Washington recyclers are paying 52-54 cents per pound for irrigation pipe, depending on quality.

Rowan said the sheriff’s office has “some good contact” with metal dealers in the Walla Walla and Tri-Cities areas and have helped stymie crimes, so he thinks the snatchers head to Idaho.

Property owners’ first line of defense against metal thieves, the sheriff said, is to cash in the scrap themselves.

He also said people should put metal piles where someone can keep an eye on them. A pile away from sight makes an easy target.

He also suggested people mark metal in their pile with spray paint or another visual way. Being able to identify metal, he said, can make the difference in retrieving the items and pursuing a criminal case or letting bad guys get away.

Rowan also said he wouldn’t be surprised if another wave of metal theft from big ag operations starts again. Farms become active this time of year, and workers start to notice if thieves ran off with piping and other equipment during the winter. Those cases are tough to solve because the thefts usually happened months before, when the farm was idle.


Contact Phil Wright at or 541-966-0833.

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