DOS PALOS (AP) — Cannon Michael is a folk hero across California’s agriculture heartland, where these days the price of scrap metal influences a farmer’s bottom line as much that of the fine pima cotton he grows.
When thieves tore up yet another pricey water pump for the few dollars’ worth of copper wire that energize it, the frustrated farmer considered taping $100 bills to the rebuilt system hoping crooks would just grab the easy money next time.
After a little more thought he warned his neighbors — and set a trap.
Within two months the screech of bare rims on asphalt alerted everyone within earshot that the 6-inch tire spikes Michael buried near his besieged pumps had thwarted the thieves’ getaway.
“I have to protect my property,” said Michael, whose thoughtful demeanor is not one of a vigilante. “Law enforcement isn’t helping, but you can’t expect them to be out in the middle of nowhere. At some point you have to make the thieves not want to come out here.”
California farmers are facing a calamity. Petty metal thefts, which law enforcement officials believe are driven by Central California’s high rate of methamphetamine addiction, are creating damages 10 times higher than the value of the metal crooks rip out to recycle.
In the nation’s No. 1 agriculture county, thieves are on track this year to steal more than $1 million worth of metal they’ll sell for pennies on the dollar. The theft of pump wiring, irrigation pipes, equipment bearings and even tractor weights account for 85 percent of Fresno County’s rural crime, the district attorney said.