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11/18/2012 6:01:00 AM
Guest Column: Have open range laws outlived their usefulness?
BUTCH MERIWETHER/Courtesy
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/Courtesy
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.

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• Crashes injure two people, kill two cows in Golden Valley


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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: Native Girl

Unless you have raised, slaughtered, sold or donated animals you need to take a step back on this story. The fact our ranching community needs to use Federal lands to provide the food you purchase in the grocery store is the result of generations of land grabs, poor conditions and an apathetic public. Meat doesn't miraculously appear in your grocery store. It takes dedication and sacrifice from those you choose to denigrate in this feed. The animals you continue to reference that were killed on the roads crossing open range land hurts nobody more than the rancher who lost the animal and the funds it would bring or the calf's it would produce. If you don't like it on the open range go back to the city you chose to escape. It isn't our responsibility to adapt to you it your responsibility to adapt to us.

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: Spartacus .

@ Ranchers Wife --

As one who grew up in a ranching family, I appreciate your comments. There aren't a lot of people nowadays that understand how difficult that life is, for the entire family. But it is a life with great rewards.

Keep up the hard work. Best wishes to you and yours. And welcome to Arizona.


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

As I sit here are read over all of the comments posted on this article so many things come to my mind. My Husband’s family has been ranching in Mohave County for many generations, My Grandfather moved here in the 70's and I grew up in the mid-west, just outside of one of the largest cities in the US. I moved to Kingman almost 10 years ago and have been involved with cattle ranching for almost 8 years. Moving from a big city to this Little Big Town was a HUGE change. One of the main reasons I moved here was to raise my children in a place where God, Guns and the Open Range still ruled the lands. A place where they could see as far as the eye would allow and be able to run free without the ever closing buildings and skyscrapers that surrounded me while I was growing up. I didn't even know that cowboys existed... real cowboys. In the city you forget easily where that steak you bought from the market came from. We didn't care really, never crossed our minds. Seeing and being a part of the cattle industry has made me love living in Kingman Arizona that much more. In all the years I've been here more and more people have moved into Kingman from all over, mostly California, for a lot of the same reasons.. “to get out of the Big City and move to a place where America still exists”. I hear it all the time. The problem with a lot of people these days is they have forgotten what that means (AMERICA)... THE LAND OF THE FREE. Our world has become so obsessed with material things that people have forgotten what this land is made of. (continuing on next post)

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

(continued from previous post) YES if you live in open range land you need to have a fence to keep out the cattle. YES if a ranchers cow has knocked down your fence and has damaged your property the rancher that owns the cattle should fix it. YES when you are driving in open range country you MUST be aware and cautious of the cattle that are roaming the land. It’s not rocket science people. I have driven North Stockton Hill Road day and night for the past 3+ years. I drive the speed limit, I don't pass at night, and I am VERY CAUTIOUS. In the 3+ years I have never hit a cow. Why? Because if you are driving the speed limit and are keeping your awareness than the possibility of you hitting a cow is very slim. To move into a county (or state as matter of fact) that is open range and then complain about it is simply ignorant. Times have changed so you all say, so why not change the law of these lands right? WRONG. The answer is simple, MOVE. Go someplace where you enjoy living without having to change the way things were when you chose to move to that particular town in the first place. There are many places to live that you don't have to worry about cattle eating your plants or crossing the roads. My husband’s Family are “the keepers of the west” and coming from a city girl, I wouldn’t wish it any other way. They work hard, they take care of their animals better than they take care of themselves and they still live with the trust of a hand shake. So go back from where you came from and quit complaining and trying to change our town (county). MOST OF US LIVE HERE BECAUSE WE WANT TO AND WE LOVE IT, ALL OF IT… including the open range and the cattle that roam the blm lands, for those of you that don’t, I’ll say it one more time in case you forgot, MOVE!

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Article comment by: Site Steward

Edward Tomchin:

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

That publication was also the article I was quoting one of the authors key points about somehow one is liable for killing livestock in an open range area by accident, when they did not cite any law proving that statement.

As another reminder, users of public land always need to remember to close gates especially where there is no cattle guard.

Back in 2007 a local historian lady named Joni Alama submitted a letter to the Miner of the never-ending problem of vandalism of historic sites as well as fences and gates bordering public land. However, she was basically mocked by a few reader's comments stating that she can't blame all ATV riders and geocachers, etc, which she did not. She only wanted to address the point of such vandalism on public land to everyone's attention, which obviously there is no easy solution to prevent or discourage.

http://kingmandailyminer.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=13118&SectionID=36&SubSectionID=73&S=1

So, I think the best solution to keeping cattle out of where they do no belong next to large populated subdivisions in rural areas is by installing more cattle guards and maintaining fences, which is the responsibility of the cattle ranchers as well as the BLM to inspect and provide the funding.

Also, it obviously would be in the best interest of private property owners who live in the desert to fence-in their property as well, (as it is well known fact that the criminal activity here in Mohave County is rampant) just as you would if you lived in a neighborhood when it is necessary to keep people or stray animals out of your yard.


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

There is a research paper published by the University of Arizona noting in particular that Arizona has NO open range laws. Someone kindly sent this info to the Editor (Thurlow) who failed to share it with the rest of the readers. The paper can be found at http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/natresources/az1533.pdf

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Sharon E

It's Tuesday night at 9:44 pm. Another cow has been hit and killed on Estrella in Golden Valley.

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Site Steward

A.R.S. 3-1297. Concealment of livestock killed or injured by railroad or motor vehicle classification only states that

"A person who buries, removes or in any manner conceals livestock killed or injured by locomotives or cars of a railroad company or by a motor vehicle, with intent to conceal the cause of the death or injury, is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor."


A.R.S. Chapter 12 Article 1 3-1701 to 3-1704 only apples to injury to livestock by Railroads.


3-1307. Unlawfully killing, selling or purchasing livestock of another classification civil penalty exception, only states that:

A. A person who knowingly kills or sells livestock of another, the ownership of which is known or unknown, or who knowingly purchases livestock of another, the ownership of which is known or unknown, from a person not having the lawful right to sell or dispose of such animals, is guilty of a class 5 felony.

Again, I will repeat, if someone does know the specific Arizona Revised Statute or United States Civil Code that specifically states that if you kill livestock in an open range area by accident or not, you are liable to the owner to compensate for damages, please let me know.


Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Site Steward

Paul Frankfurter:

You have a good point about the Walnut Creek Estates which I agree with, as that subdivision is not part of or within any grazing allotment.

However, It has already been stated and advised numerous times that the public needs to contact the Bureau of Land Management to answer your questions.

http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/grazing..html

Also, to all of those who think Arizona's "Open Range Laws" are somehow outdated, the present day law of grazing livestock on public land is the result of the Taylor Grazing Act enacted by Congress 1934, and is easy enough to research.

However, just as there is no actual law in Arizona that defines "open range" there is also no such law or wording in the Arizona Revised Statutes stating that "if you kill livestock in an open range area, whether it is an accident or not, you are liable to the owner to compensate for damages."

In my opinion, on a remote dirt or other access road on public land, yes, of course, but definitely not on a Dedicated Public Road in a Subdivision or a Federal, State or County Highway.

Otherwise, obviously that is why ADOT or the City or County Road Department will usually post a large yellow caution sign that says "OPEN RANGE" (and or with a symbol of a cow) to advise motorists that they are driving through an open livestock range.

A staff member with the Arizona State Law Library could only advise me to contact my automobile insurance company.

If someone does know the specific Arizona Revised Statute or United States Civil Code that specifically states you are liable to the owner to compensate for damages if you kill livestock in an open range area by accident, please let me know.


Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Lisa D

Butch - Excellent work on this and thank you!

Our family listens to a radio with the MCSO and KPD programmed into it. We have it on as background noise when working in the home office. Interesting listening to see what's going on in the community! We recommend it as it will open your eyes to what's going on and the excellent services our officers provide and what they deal with.

This is how we learned of what happened with another cow last night on Stockton Hill.

When cows have escaped before and someone called to report it, the dispatch person said they were working with the officer to identify the cow/property and they put a call in for that ranch. They have even called another ranch to ask for assistance in helping the officers round up the cows.

If a dead cow is reported, why can't they contact the ranch then? They should be provided with a list of cell phone numbers to call.

We too passed the dead cow the other night on Estrella. We called MCSO and they were already aware of it via many phone calls.


Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

I had a long and interesting conversation with Rancher Travis last night and he did say his last name is spelled Holyoak, but he also told me most all spell and say his name phonetically as Julio. As a matter of fact, that (Julio) is how he originally introduced himself to me. Travis did tell me he has been working with the BLM to solve the problem of his cows escaping from the BLM grazing areas because people continually leave the gates open. He said he has asked BLM to install cattle guards as are on other gates boarding BLM land, but they haven’t done so as of yet. Until BLM does that, there will still be a problem of cows wondering off of BLM land. He did tell me he removed the cow yesterday that was hit by a vehicle on South Estrella Sunday, but because he didn’t receive a call until the next day, the meat was spoiled and unusable. He said he is still attempting to figure out who hit his cow. He said that when he arrived at the dead cow’s location, there were more of his cows hanging around there so he herded them back onto BLM land. I suggested that since meat was not fit for consumption by humans, why not call The Keepers Of The Wild and see if they wanted the dead cow so they could feed it to the lions. He said he hadn’t thought of that before and thought that was a good idea. That way that cow and future cows killed by vehicles will not be wasted.

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

I'm not against open range laws but I knew a rancher who made a pretty good living off of an oil company who accidentally would hit a cow and when it came time to pay up, it was the ranchers prize bull or cow and they paid handsomely.
The rancher was known for having nothing but scrub cattle from Mexico but you had better not hit one as you would pay dearly for it.


Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Article comment by: Paul Frankfurter

So, Butch...

Who is the maintainer of the legal documents regarding boundaries ("open range" / "no fence district") for Walnut Creek Estates. I called the County Recorders office (nope not us!). They said to call P & Z. P & Z says - "nope not us". In fact, the person at P & Z stated that I was able to tell her more information about allotment areas and boundary maps than she has been able to find out in four years!

One of the co-developers of Walnut Creek Estates has stated that "we took care of that problem a long time ago". More clarification on that statement was not forthcoming.

So the question remains: If, in fact, the majority of residents of Walnut Creek Estates, at some unknown point in time, petitioned the BOS to institute a "no fence district" for our development, exactly who is responsible for maintaining and producing a copy of that legal documentation? This would be helpful information for all readers to know. Perhaps you could research this and inform your readers in an update to this article.

Good article by the way! Our open range laws are as antiquated as our "dog" ordinances. We are apparently the only County in Arizona not to have a provision for "sanctuaries". In today's legalistic society, assuming you are provided a legal space to free range your cattle, you had damn well better keep them in that assigned area and should be held responsible if they escape. Animal Control will nail you if your dog escapes your yard and it is found by them or reported. The same should apply to cattle ranchers. Perhaps it's time for a legal challenge to help lift us out of the dark ages.


Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Lisa D

It's Monday night at 9:20 pm and another cow has been hit on N, Stockton Hill. Unfortunately, the cow is still alive and severely injured, forcing the police officer to probably have to shoot the animal to kill it. (Hey honey, guess what I got to do tonight at work?). The occupants of the car are headed to the ER at the KRMC. How many animals need to keep getting killed? Would it be possible for this paper to have a daily total reported so residents can know the REAL story? It's just not the cows but what about the people who are being injured. What about our wasted police resources? Are the ranchers being held accountable for anything?

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: KO TAY

The laws concerning fences and ranchers is over 100 yrs old time to update.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Sharon E

How about having the ranchers donate the hit cows to someplace like Keepers of the Wild for the large cats and other animals that would eat them? If the cows are hit, shouldn't the ranchers be responsible for quick pick up of the animal? Such a waste.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

I received an email this morning and was told another cow got killed by a vehicle last night on S. Estrella Rd. in Golden Valley. The broblem as I see it is by the time the rancher gets to the dead cow, the meat is no good (spoiled). A friend of mine who lived in Alaska said their state police had a list of people who wanted moose meat and when one got hit by a vehicle or a train, a person on the list would get a phone call, even if it was at 3 a.m., to go out to the accident scene to butcher their moose. I understand the ranchers here get paid by the person who hit the cow unless it was a hit-and-run situation, but the same scenerio would be great here and the meat could be used by someone who wanted it or donated to one of the local homeless shelters.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Monica Cow Lover

One cow killed tonight on Estrella in GV. I NEVER want to see that sight again. Hope nobody was injured in the car that hit it. The ranchers should be made to be held more responsible. Hey! Put reflective collars on the cows. What's the cost?? An extra few bucks? Even with off road lights they are hard to see at night.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Sharon E

We just drove home from a movie and passed a dead cow on Estrella in Golden Valley tonight (Sun). Very sad, gross, and unnecessary. I'm constantly scared I'm going to hit one of them because it is very dark out here. Why can't the ranchers be required to put a reflector collar on them or something? These ranchers obviously don't give a #%{* about these animals or anyone that may hit them.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Cattle Rancher

If open range were to go away, where would you expect your meat to come from? If not here, maybe imported from another country?

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Article comment by: Be Responsible

My complaint about the open range law is that certain ranchers do not provide adequate water for them. You can't expect them to roam all over and not have sufficient watering areas. It's cruel. I witnessed thirsty cattle firsthand and it was apalling. I would never treat my animals like that. At least for this area ( Kingman and surrounding areas) this open range policy is outdated. Bring the cattle somewhere safe provide them with adequate water and check on them often. These self proclaimed ranchers do not deserve to call themselves 'keepers of the old west' as they refer to themselves. Real ranchers respect their livestock and care for it. I have talked to them. Looks more like lazy yahoos owning livestock they don't deserve.

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Article comment by: Fritzie Sims

Yes, I do agree that they have! I live in Dolan Springs and cows have recently been in my neck of the woods munching on my plants and trees. We make sure now that we have the gate closed and are careful when we drive up and down our dirt road to and from town and on the highway, they have been known to cross them bridges too! Good idea of the fence law, I have seen many more cows this year here than ever before in my area, have been here more than 8 yrs. now.

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Article comment by: mikel weisser

Excellent Article, Mr. Meriwether. When we were at a recent Mohave County District 4 candidate forum in Dolan Springs, we heard from citizen after citizen who were outraged over the cows on the road situation they live in. They asked candidate after candidate for BOS to offer a solution. Your suggestion of the ARS 3-1421 "no-fence districts" might be the answer they were looking for. Maybe we should have voted for you instead!
:-)
mikel weisser
www.mikelweisser.org


Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Article comment by: Mead View

I wonder if the open range cows get nervous when they see so many drivers from other countries driving on the wrong side of the Pearce Ferry Road and Stockton Hill Road?

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Article comment by: Site Steward

Mr. Meriwether:

Very good article.

However, in your photograph you identified the two free-range cattle in Golden Valley as belonging to rancher Travis Julio.

According to the current BLM Allotment Master Report (which is public information) the current grazing operator for the Black Mountain Allotment AZ00010 is Travis Holyoak and there is only one operator for each allotment.

Perhaps Travis Julio is employed as a ranch hand by Travis Holyoak.
Also, for the record, (especially to Paul Frankfurter) the Black Mountain Allotment does in fact extend north of Shinarump Drive to Highway 68, where the Black Mountain Allotment joins the Mud Springs Allotment 00056.

The Black Mountain Allotment covers the following sections in T21N R19W: All of sections 7, 8, 9, 18, 17, 16, 19 20 30 31 and the southwest diagonal half of section 32

The Townships and Sections of the entire Black Mountain grazing allotment is to numerous to list.

The public can find all of the BLM grazing allotment areas as well as the Master Reports on the geocommunicator.gov website. http://www.geocommunicator.gov/blmMap/Map.jsp?MAP=GA

A "No Fence District" in that area would not be necessary if there were cattle guards in place on every main access road.

Back in 2006, I noticed someone had removed a cattle guard on Garnet Road, a few miles south of Shinarump Drive.



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