ARIMO — Ranch hand James Munden knew it wasn’t like his cattle dog, Turbo, to ignore the repeated calls he made Tuesday night.
At about 7:30 a.m. the next morning, the working ranch dog was found dead from an apparent bullet wound in front of his corral, a short distance from a pool of blood in the nearby road.
The ranch owners, Sherilyn and Dennis Munden, who are cousins of James Munden, are convinced the 4-year-old, mixed-breed dog’s death is the fallout of a dispute regarding access to an unimproved roadway passing through their property.
The Mundens are originally from Utah and bought their scenic ranch in the Garden Creek Gap area in 2012. The Mundens say they’ve been targeted ever since they fought during the winter against a county road-use restriction, which designated a 2-mile stretch of Garden Creek Road they use for hauling feed as a snowmobiling route.
The county argues a public road exists because of a prescriptive easement — a legal concept that someone can gain a right to use property based on a history of use without an owner’s permission over a legally defined timeframe.
In recent months, the Mundens say they’ve been threatened with violence by snowmobilers who trespassed onto their property adjacent to that roadway, Garden Creek Road. They say they’ve also had obscenities and threats painted onto their new “no-trespassing” signs.
A neighbor, who also moved to Arimo from Utah, told the Munden’s he’s faced similar treatment, having found an insult painted onto his own sign: “You’ve ruined this place. Go the (expletive) back to California and Utah.”
“There appears to be an element of Bannock County residents that have something against people from out of state moving in and buying land — to the point that they feel justified in damaging or killing other people’s property,” Sherilyn Munden said.
The Mundens contacted the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office to investigate after finding the body of Turbo, who left behind a pair of puppies in training to herd cattle for the ranch. Sherilyn Munden suspects the dog was shot from a passing vehicle, based on the angle of the entry wound.
“He had kind of become a valuable dog to our operation,” Sherilyn Munden said.
The Mundens’ attorney, Nathan Olsen, said his clients may file for an order of protection or pursue “some kind of injunctive relief.”
“At the end of the day, we want the Mundens and their animals protected, as well as their employees,” Olsen said. “We’re considering all of our options at this point.”
A county ordinance, approved in January, specifies the stretch of Garden Creek Road is part of a designated snowmobiling route and is closed during winter to other forms of traffic. Blake Hall, an attorney representing the county, said the new ordinance amends a 2006 ordinance, replacing specific dates when roads close for snowmobiles to make closures based on weather conditions.
In addition to recreational use, a few area property owners have said they have long used the unmaintained road to access their homes and cabins via snowmobile during the winter. One neighbor has voiced concerns that ruts left by the Mundens’ tractor make the road impassible by snowmobiles.
Olsen, however, argued in court that language in the 2006 ordinance is vague and doesn’t specifically mention Garden Creek Road as being subject to closure for snowmobile use.
In September, 6th District Judge Robert Naftz dismissed a lawsuit the Mundens filed to retain their road access and ordered them to pay $15,000 in attorney fees to the county. The county has requested repayment for a total of $30,000 in legal fees.
Olsen has asked Naftz to review the court transcript and reconsider the fees he’s already awarded.
Back at the ranch, Olsen worries the conflicts with users of Garden Creek Road may not be over.
“We’re concerned,” Olsen said. “If we’re already having these kinds of problems even before the snow, it’s only going to get worse.”
Attorneys representing Bannock County did not return a request for comment Friday.
“I don’t know if it’s disgruntled hunters or people that have a beef with us for filing suit against the county over the road,” Sherilyn Munden said. “I’m just very disappointed that anyone thinks that land owners don’t have a right to restrict access to their own private property.”