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home : opinion : opinion July 27, 2016

11/18/2012 6:01:00 AM
Guest Column: Have open range laws outlived their usefulness?
Two free-range cattle belonging to rancher Travis Julio quench their thirsts by drinking water from a small child’s pool in the front yard of a house in Golden Valley. Many residents are upset about stray cows wandering through neighborhoods, knocking down fences and munching on plants.
Two free-range cattle belonging to rancher Travis Julio quench their thirsts by drinking water from a small child’s pool in the front yard of a house in Golden Valley. Many residents are upset about stray cows wandering through neighborhoods, knocking down fences and munching on plants.

Butch Meriwether
Butch's Brew

A dust-covered cowboy sitting atop his mighty steed and herding livestock on month-long cattle drives was once the quintessential symbol of the American frontier.

Those days are gone from the Southwest. No longer do cowboys and cowgirls herd thousands of four-legged steaks on hooves hundreds of miles to the slaughterhouses.

Nowadays, cattle drives are accomplished by local ranch hands rounding up the "free-range" cattle. Then semi-trucks and trailers transport them.

The majority of cattle in our area are considered free range and many ranchers lease land from the Bureau of Land Management as a low-cost method of having their cattle feed on natural vegetation instead of having to feed expensive hay to them in corrals actually located on the various ranches.

There are 9,400 cattle grazing permits on the 2.7 million acres of public lands managed by the Kingman Field Office of BLM just in Mohave County alone. BLM receives $1.35 per animal each month from the 50 ranchers who take advantage of the grazing permits, for a total of about $12,690 monthly for the cattle that graze in Mohave County.

However, not all of the grazing allocations are fully utilized by the ranchers and many of the ranchers have grazing permits for more than one of the allotments, which are limited to 91 for Mohave County.

What is interesting is the BLM range management specialists conduct use supervision - normally about two to four times annually on larger operations and less often on the smaller ones - on the allotment areas to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of grazing permits.

BLM, in cooperation with the ranchers, relies mostly on the honor system; they take the word of the ranchers as to how many cattle they have grazing on BLM lands at any given time.

The problem with this scenario is many of the cattle escape from BLM-managed lands because people forget to close the gates along the fences that separate BLM public lands from private property.

Mohave County residents are upset about stray cows wandering through their neighborhoods and causing destruction by knocking down their fences and munching on plants and other vegetation.

Cows are again on most residents' minds since more cattle are aimlessly wandering through residential areas of the county. And there was a vehicle-cow accident that occurred last month when three vehicles crashed into a 600-pound steer that had decided to wander across Highway 68.

There was another "cow in the road" incident last month in Mohave Valley in which a driver of a car swerved to miss a cow and slammed head-on into a power pole, causing an outage to more than 13,000 UniSource Energy Services customers in Mohave Valley, Yucca, Golden Valley and Kingman.

Emmett Sturgell owns Canyon Springs Ranch and leases Cedar Ranch, and a 20-mile stretch of Stockton Hill Road runs through them. He has lost 21 head of cattle to vehicle-cow accidents just this year alone.

Another vehicle-cow accident occurred on Hualapai Mountain Road about a year and a half ago that killed the cow and totaled the vehicle.

To add insult to injury, if the cows are killed in an open range area, the drivers of the vehicles that hit the cows are liable to the rancher for compensation for the cow. The current value of a cow is between $800 and $1,100 depending upon weight and if it is a female.

I guess it is lucky that, as far as I know, no one has been seriously injured in the vehicle-cow accidents in recent years, but if these types of accidents continue to occur, sooner or later someone is going to be killed.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, there weren't as many problems with cows causing destruction because there just weren't that many built-up communities.

However, most now believe Arizona's open range laws are archaic and should be modified or completely done away with and left in the proverbial past just like Wild West gunfighters.

Times have changed, with communities sprouting up just about everywhere. There isn't room for cattle to coexist in people's front yards.

People frustrated with the damage cows are causing wonder if they have any recourse to the wandering-cow situation. Where the damage occurs will determine if they can be reimbursed or not.

Since most of Arizona is designated as open range, the property owner doesn't have much chance of recouping their losses for damage caused by stray cattle if that damage was not in a fenced in area.

However, if a wayward cow breaks through a fence and causes damage, the property owner does have a legal recourse if the fence was constructed in accordance with ARS 3-1426.

The ARS stipulates, in part, "...a lawful fence is constructed and maintained with good and substantial posts firmly placed in the ground at intervals of not more than 30 feet, upon which posts are fastened at least four barbed wires of usual type ... with the top wire being fifty inches above the ground and the other wires at intervals below the top wire of twelve, twenty-two, and thirty-two inches. However, all fences constructed of other than the barbed wire method equally as strong that will turn away the livestock shall be deemed a lawful fence ...."

ARS 3-1428 stipulates that if the damage was in a fenced area and is less than $200, the property owner can seek restitution from the justice of the peace in which the land is located, and if the damage is more than $200, they can seek restitution through the Superior Court system.

The best thing to do is not immediately run down to the court to file a lawsuit against the livestock owner if you know their name or you recognize the brand on the livestock.

Contact the Kingman BLM office at (928) 718-3700 to determine who actually owns the cattle, get the telephone number of the rancher from BLM, contact the livestock owner and attempt to iron out a fair and equitable settlement.

If residents are concerned about cattle roaming through their unfenced yards and destroying their vegetation, they have another viable solution: Petition the Mohave County Board of Supervisors to designate "no-fence districts" as stipulated in ARS 3-1421.

What this means is if enough residents in a particular area submit a petition to have the BOS designate a specific area as a no-fence district, the BOS shall immediately enter the contents upon its records and order the no-fence district be formed.

(For more information about no-fence districts, visit http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ArizonaRevisedStatutes.asp.)

Once a no-fence district is instituted, the property damage caused by wandering cattle falls on the livestock owner even if the property isn't fenced. And besides that, if the owner or person in charge of the cattle recklessly allows livestock to run at large within a no-fence district, they are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, in addition to being liable for the damages.

The resolution to the vehicle-cow accidents and the property damage is twofold.

Ranchers must be proactive, good stewards of private owner's property rights, and they must be more responsible for what their cattle do.

Residents, of course, must take into consideration that they currently reside in an open range area. They must ensure their properties are as cow-proof as possible in order keep wayward cattle from devouring their plants and vegetation.

ICT - Mission Bank 233x388
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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, January 7, 2013
Article comment by: Joshua x

I would like to know how I can get in touch with the owner of the cattle branded "JH" that open range the Mt Nutt / Secret Pass area.
These cattle are dying of thirst! They are destroying my yard and fencing that I newly started in search of a drink.

Every catch tank and spring in the area that use to be used around here is dry or out of reach. You cattlemen have to know this! I know this area well and I know they USE to have places to drink. It has become almost as if you guys no longer care what these cows are doing and going through to get a needed drink. We watch them wear down the fence to the point they can jump over it for water. Why is it me and my neighbors responsibility to water your stock? We are good hearted and don't want to see them go thirsty. The fencing along Bolsa Road and Ganado has been in bad shape for 6 years now. You guys come around and do a quick fix here and there but have spots that are big enough to drive through that get ignored. Then a few weeks ago the fence was fixed but you didn't drive the cattle back on the BLM side first leaving them trapped in the neighborhood wondering around in our yards and streets! The cattle guards along Granado have been out of service for even longer than the fence along Bolsa.
My main complaint here is the poor cattle are dying for a drink! How about you guys stop ignoring that issue and figure out a solution for it in this area. I would even supply the water in trade you folks fix and fence of the rest of my land they are destroying. bring a tank and I promise to keep it filled if you fix me and my neighbors fencing.

Posted: Saturday, December 29, 2012
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

The people who complain about open range are the tree huggers etc etc, who want nothing but government control.
I live out in the boonies and have my place partially fenced but also have a Border Collie who patrols every inch of my property and lets the cows know they are not welcome on his owners land....he does a terrific job!
I knew when I bought there was open range all around me and not being a liberals snob, I knew I would have to deal with it...
Probably these jerks who probably have a postage stamp size property and could fence it quite easily just like to complain and are probably vegetarians who think they are so much smarter than anyone else.....Liberals, I'm sick of them! I say liberal because they have no common sense.

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2012
Article comment by: LIFELONG RESIDENT

I have lived in Golden Valley my entire life right next to BLM land and we have NEVER had a problem with cattle. When we didn't have a fenced in yard we just scared them away. Now that we have a fenced in yard and they have NEVER tried to damage it in any way. I have also NEVER even come close to wrecking into a cow (probably because I go the speed limit and I don't use my phone while I'm driving). If you people don't like the open range laws then don't live here, us longtime residents won't mind! Its crazy how you ignorant people enjoy those hamburgers or steaks at night but you try so hard to bring down those hard working ranchers that raise them and that are just trying to make a living to support their family!

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2012
Article comment by: Laura Steele

I am a long time resident of Mohave County and my family been here since 1800 hundreds. I just wonder want you people think when you move in a State where there is cattle ranching all around you and you move right smack in the middle of it. What do you think going to happen your going run into cattle problems and if you have green plants there going to eat them even if the rancher throw out hay. When you move into a area get educated in the environment meet your ranchers, and neighbors get to know your area this is a rancher community. We don't want to change our lively hood because you move here.There is a soilutuin to every problem but bad mouthing our community is not the right way.
I have never hit a cow in the road there are signs all over posting cattle crossing . So if you do hit one it is your fault not cattle owner, We do go by the law to keep our lively hood alive that we teach are kids and live by everyday!!!!
Sometimes there are issues you can't get there right way if I would of know ther was a animal hurt I would of came and loaded it up and took to the ranch owner myself or contacted somebody that could get it done. Just realize what you write in these articles is just your opinion and not all the truth!!

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012
Article comment by: Get With the Times

Cattle Rancher. Human consumption of beef has and continues to have a major negative impact on our environment. I'm not advocating elimination of your livelihood. However, I would like to see the elimination of open range unless ranch hands are not present watching their cows to make certain they don't cause a young mother with children to be killed in an auto accident. And if open range is stopped, I suppose you would have to contract with a land owner to allow grazing or purchase feed. Yes, that would increase your costs which would have to be passed on. Let the free market determine if what you have to charge will allow enough sales to stay in business if not, you might have to look at a career change. Many of us in the new global economy will need to change careers. Perhaps the increase in beef costs will help the environment.

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012
Article comment by: Long Time resident

Being a long time resident I have had my own issues with cows. I scare them off. I do not drive at excessive speeds. When I ride my quad I make sure to close all gates I pass through. Unlike a deer or an elk a cow is a slow moving animal thus most of the cow vehicle incidents could probably have been avoided if an appropriate speed was maintained. Love to know how many people who hit cows were on a cell phone. While there are some irresponsible ranchers by far most of them take great care of their animals. Maybe the rancher in question was out of cell phone range because he was traveling his range looking for the open gates and torn down fences courtesy of irresponsible ATV riders.

Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012
Article comment by: glyn tomlinson

I see where this is going!!! The people that move in to this area want it to be as it was in CALIFORNIA!! MAKE ALL THE PEOPLE THAT DON'T DO AS THEY DO CONFORM!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have news for you people need to move BACK where you come from! This state has developed as a FREEE!!!!!!! state . YOU DON"T LIKE IT GET BACK WHERE YOU COME FROM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! .LEAVEUS ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SWP34Q

Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012
Article comment by: Sharon E

@ Wendy

I'm sorry to hear about your husband's horrific experience the other night. Hope he was not injured. Can only imaging how horrible and heartbreaking that was for everyone involved.

What respectable rancher is unreachable in today's age of technology? It is unacceptable to allow one's cattle to go 12 hours injured without assistance. What about the proud rancher's wife? Got a cell phone lady?

Wendy, as your family goes thru the whole process and interaction with the rancher, please let us know what takes place. I'm sure they are typing up the bill right now.

These cattle need reflective collars.

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: Ranchers Wife Too

@Be Responsible and Out Dated: I'm not sure where you get your info on the water situation with cattle. Ranchers provide water in many areas of the ranch- just because you don't see then doesn't meant they are not there. We actually have several water holes all over the ranches and are accessible at all times. Weird you would even think we would purposefully try to kill our cattle with water deprivation?? Again most people are oblivious to things they do not know or understand. And usually when we are called on a cattle call we go out as soon as possible. I do have black cattle too and yes they can be hard to see at times, but when I drive the speed limit and know they are there I really don't have them sneak up on me.
@Ranchers Wife- we are 2 lucky women in a wonderful world of ranching. We need to continue to do what we feel is right. Know that what we do provides for many families and don't let what some of these people say get you down- They just don't get it! If they took a day to come out to the ranch they would love it!!

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: Ranchers Wife Too

I also am a CA raised girl moved to glorious Kingman back in 1988. Now, with my husband and 2 sons we run cattle in the Kingman area. We get calls weekly about our cattle and do what we can to manage their whereabouts. We fix fences that people with ATVs and vehicles cut down, we close gates that vehicles leave open (even with signage to Please Keep Closed), we put in cattle guards when affordable, we have people with issues with the fences call our local county representatives to help out with the problem since they allowed the Realtors to cut down the fences to build more houses but did not require them to rebuild the barriers. We stop what we are doing daily to move a wandering cow that has gone astray. We try our best to keep the "problems" with our cattle on our own grazing lands to a minimum. We are not the ones who leave the gates open to let out the cattle on to the highways. And if you are on the dirt road with the 35 MPH speed limit, its fairly easy to see cattle a mile away in front of you. I have yet to have a cow jump in front of my truck to get hit. I have yet to come close to hitting a cow anywhere where I know they run free range and I am driving lawfully. It is sad to know of people losing their lives to livestock, deer, elk, drunk drivers, bad drivers or blown tires but I don't believe I would blame myself if this sort of tragedy happened on my ranch. I would pray for the families and hope that people would slow down.
I am proud to be a Cattlewomen in Mohave County. I am proud to be American and have the freedom of God, Guns and Freedom.
Please feel free to join us at any Livestock Association Meeting held monthly. Maybe we can work together for a common goal. To live peacefully with each other.

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: Site Steward

To Sturm Gewehr:

I would like to talk with you regarding the matter of public land and the Arizona Game and Fish Dept.

Would you be willing to contact me if you I give the Miner permission for them to give you my e-mail address?


Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

@ Sturm Gewehr - please give me a call at (928) 530-8988. I would like to talk about your experience with the people running you off of public landes.

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: pu pupuhi

I have a small fenced property (5acres) way out on Antares Road..Cows roam around freely and used my fence as a scrathing post, few bends here and there..it does not borther me...but, if it downs the fence than, I will take action..Its the same as living in rural area..a vehicle knocks down your stonewall...driver pays...I don t blame the animal..the owner pays..ARS 3-1426

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: Out Dated

Unfortunately the view expressed by'Ranchers wife' explains the ongoing problem. People live in the past and can't understand that times are changing everything. The cattle has to be kept safe somewhere for their benefit as well as the motorist's. There are always idiots driving but also people driving the speed limit who are suddenly confronted with a black cow in the dark standing on black asphalt. People are moving into the Kingman area in leaps and bounds for their own reasons. The best thing to do is to find a solution other than saying 'move' which is not happening. Energy wasted on a mute subject. There is so much room every where why use the space where there are so many people living on small parcels of land. People actually should fence off their properties but it still doesn't solve the vehicle/cow collisions.
By the way Rancher's wife where do you water your cattle and how many stations are there per x amount of acres? Maybe none? !!

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: Doris Goodale

It would seem to me the first best step would be to meet with the Cattleman's Association, BLM as they meet monthly. A call to the secretary of the association would get the subject placed on agenda. Then a dialogue could begin to discuss and all could be part of the resolution. Engaging in a war of words will not correct the problem and I do not agree with an earlier statement the cattlemen will react harshly to the concerns of this article or the concerns of the people. Getting together to work out a good solution for all is the best first step

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: We the people{me} Thinking

@Ranchers wife::BRAVO!!!!!

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

I would have expanded more on the info for the readers in regard to the case law and liability of vehicle/cow accidents, but I too (even though I wrote the original commentary for the KDM) am bound by the 300 word limitation on the comments section.
The study Edward Tomchin brought up is just one of many articles, studies and case laws that are available out there in regard to open grazing and vehicle/cow accidents. And depending upon which one you read depends upon where the liability lays. Here is another case law that deals with cows on the road and vehicle/cow accidents: BROOKOVER v. ROBERTS ENTERPRISES INC. No.   1CA-CV 05-0444 - May 08, 2007.
All I can say is if you are not happy with the current problem with vehicle/cow accidents, the liability for killing a cow, cows devouring your plants and doing other damage in your unfenced front yards, then I say it would behoove you to contact your state legislature to see about getting the laws changed.
Until the laws are changed, we Arizonans must co-exist with each other – that means wildlife, cows, railroads, vehicles, neighbors, people and ranchers.

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

@ Site Steward - the following Arizona Statute is the one that vehicle/cows accidents fall – ARS 1701 Report of killed or crippled livestock inspection and removal violation classification definition - Sub. Sec. E, “The term "railroad" as used in this article includes any person, firm or corporation operating a railroad.” Sub. Sec. E also indicates person (nether ward people driving vehicles).

ARS 3-1703 under and specifically states about the retribution to the rancher for the loss of a cow, “Livestock straying, or grazing unattended by a herder, upon unfenced parts of the railroad is not contributory negligence of the owner.”

ARS 3-1704 goes into further detail. ARS 3-1704 Liability of railroad for negligent injury of certain animals injury or death as prima facie evidence of negligence liability of owner for intentional damage, “A railroad which negligently injures or kills a horse, jack, jenny, mule, cow or other domestic animal, by running a locomotive or cars against the animal is liable to the owner of the animal for the damages sustained by the owner by reason thereof. The killing or injury of the animal is prima facie evidence of negligence on the part of the railroad.”
A check with the Arizona Cattlemen's Association and our state representative’s office shows the vehicle/cow accident liability has been challenged in the Arizona courts numerous times and the case law is what is being cited as what the liability is being established by is : CARROW CO. v. LUSBY 163 Ariz. 450 (1989) 788 P.2d 1201.
I also gave my insurance agent a call and the agents say they pay the claim under the driver’s property damage portion of the insurance if a driver runs into a cow. They further said that they treat it just as if the driver ran into the rancher’s vehicle.

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: Sturm Gewehr

This Mohave County resident is unhappy with MORE than stray cattle taking out my garden.
There is a problem (as I see it) with local ranchers fencing off huge tracts of public lands. They act like they own these lands because they pay $1.35 per animal to graze on it. One local rancher charges fees to hunt on public lands that she has fenced off!
On several occasions I have been out on foot, and on horseback when some yayhoo comes up confrontationally with "What are you doing here? This is private property, now leave!"
BLM is in on it. AZGF is in on it. You can have a current, accurate map PROVING you are on public lands and still get run off.
I attended an AZGF sponsored hunter education class with my son and brought this issue up. HOO WEE. They side stepped and double-talked up a storm. Their view, as I understood it was if ranchers actually own the acreage where the access point lies to said public land, thats all they need to bar access. That ain't right and some of them need to be taken down a notch.

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: Wendy Carlisle

My husbond was behind the van that hit the cow on S Estrella Rd in Golden Valley on Wed night @ about 9:45 pm. He and another driver stayed with the injured cow until she could be moved and the rancher called. MCSO officer was unable to reach said rancher and so left the injured animal on the sholder of Estrella next to the fence on my property. This animal went untill 11am the next morning still alive and injured next to the road where it could of crawled out to be hit again. Lucky it stayed put but it went over 12 hours with no water or food or medical treatment. For the ranchers wife whom said move if I didn't like having cows wondering through my yard that I work hard to make look nice. I have watched my orchard of fruit trees die due to damage. Hundreds of dollars in roses. plants and trees ripped from my front yard. I had to resort to an electric fence to save what little I have left. I pay property taxes and I have a deed to my land. Worked hard and payed cash for it. I should have the right to have a cow free zone. If you want frendly neighbors, you earn them. This is not neighborly nor is it the right thing to do. Please for the safety of the animals and the sanity of your neighbors.... move your cows! We have been here 12 years.. I have NEVER had an issue with cows UNTIL NOW. Personally I think that this issue is just a rancher whom does not care what others think. Hes gunna make money on fattened cows, if he must use your prized roses to do it!

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: IDA Gara

It's very simple... don't want cattle on your property - fence them out. Can't drive without hitting cattle or deer on the highways, turn in your Dr. Lic. Want to continue whinning then CA is west... go west young man you don't belong here!
There are good ranchers and bad ranchers... the bad ranchers eventually go away. They can't make money if their cattle don't make it to market.

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Wow this story was funny, reminded me of once when I was up in Elko Nevada on a 5 acre mini-ranch I owned, with a 32' RV, woke up hearing some cows mooing, bumping into side of trailer, went outside saw about 20 or so cows and one old bull sniffing at my dogs food which was in a plastic container, I threw a few rocks they moved on, did not end the world, found it quite funny then and still do today! Now with all the woes in the world, starvation of human beings, wars, rumors of wars one might think this is a trivial thing for anyone to worry about! Guess it says a lot about anyone who would get upset over this and seem to have no concern for more important issues in the world!

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: Lisa D

@ Rancher's Wife
Being pretty arrogant there, eh? It's all about you.

My extended family raise Angus in South Dakota. A young woman hit one of their animals and died, along with a 5 year old. Even though they were not legally liable being the cattle owner, they were devistated about what happened and made moral amends.

Responsible ranchers take care of their animals AND look out for their fellow neighbors.

This is not a matter if 1-2 accidents. The growing number points to a larger problem.

If someone gets killed, how are you going to feel? Probably nothing. Your answer seems to be "move".

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

@ Butch

"A link to that publication from the Arizona Cooperative Extension was posted in the Ask the Editor column, however it was hard to notice."

Yes, I know. That was where I found it quite by accident. Thurlow is inclined to hide or censor things might actually help someone. He also brags to the readers that they shouldn't waste their money on college. After all, he never went and look at him now!

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: Ranchers Daughter

I am a Ranchers Daughter and take great insult to these ignorant peoples comments. You all want to get rid of these Ranchers and the cattle but love to eat that steak and hambuger at night. You are just as likely to hit a stray dog, cat or widelife. So should we get rid of those things too.

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