KINGMAN - Cow pies. Squashed gardens. Torn trees. Broken fences.
It's an unwelcome sight for some landowners in Golden Valley, but due to Arizona laws created decades ago, they might be out of luck.
"Last evening I was watering my trees from a faucet close to the fence. My hose has a hole in it, so there's a spray. A herd of cattle came and were doing everything they could to get at the water under the trees and in a small pan under the faucet. They tore at my fence and broke parts of it to get to the water," said Mayann Lorraine of Golden Valley.
"They come in here and eat my trees. They tear up shrubs, grass, irrigation systems, solar lights, and not to mention they poop all over," said Tom Hale.
"A neighbor's water bill went from $30 to $90 due to the cows damaging his water system," added Hale.
One resident can't help but laugh about the situation.
"They come in my front yard, eat my roses and my mulberry tree. They leave their cow pies," laughed Kathy Wilber. "I'll harass them if I see them eating my tree. I'll holler at them and they'll run off."
The cattle culprits range in number depending on the night. A rancher who is currently leasing land from the Bureau of Land Management in the Black Mountain Allotment may be the owner of the livestock in question. He couldn't be reached for comment.
"The cattle are supposed to be up in the Black Mountains mostly, and further south towards Oatman road," said Mike Blanton, rangeland management specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.
The problem, according to Blanton, is people accessing the public land for recreational activities, such as riding ATVs or quads. People driving out there see a large fence meant to keep cattle in, and rather than driving to a gate or over a cattle guard, they cut the fence. The cows escape and are free to roam as they please.
That's where the laws protecting cattle and property come into play. Arizona is commonly thought of as an "open range" state, which means that cattle can freely roam unincorporated land as they see fit. Arizona law doesn't designate the land as open range, but rather puts the burden of protecting property on the property owners in unincorporated areas.
"The ranches back then were so large it was impossible to put fences around them," said Bill Ekstrom, deputy county attorney for Mohave County. "Ranchers had legislative power at the time. The law is, generally, if you don't want cattle in, you have to fence them out."
Arizona law goes one step further to define what constitutes a lawful fence, describing the fence as one that "is constructed and maintained with good and substantial posts firmly placed in the ground at intervals of not more than 30 feet" and strung with at least four barbed wires. A subsection also states that a fence "of other materials equally as strong and otherwise effective to turn livestock" will also satisfy the requirements of a lawful fence.
Without that fence in place, the rancher generally cannot be held liable for damages caused by his cattle. If a cow breaks through a proper fence, according to the law, the rancher then can be charged civilly or criminally, depending on the situation.
Incorporated cities such as Kingman can pass ordinances to prevent cattle from roaming free, but rural areas in the county such as Golden Valley are subject to state law.
There are areas in Arizona designated as "no-fence districts," which are created to allow residents to forego the fence but give them legal protection from grazing. These districts can be formed by taxpayers "adjacent to an incorporated city" via a petition to the board of supervisors, but the area must meet some special criteria such as a specific population and irrigation requirements.
According to Ekstrom, there are no districts in the Golden Valley area.
For the time being, the issue with cows roaming Golden Valley is between the residents and cattle owners. Residents can help alleviate the issue by ensuring that gates in public lands remain closed, and by refraining from cutting fences they find in the desert.
Residents can also contact the Mohave County Sheriff's Office to help identify the cows and find out which rancher owns them.
They should also ensure that the cows are not harmed when shooing them off of a property, as the property owner could be liable for damages to the cow.
For more information on state laws concerning cattle and no-fence districts, look at Arizona Revised Statues 3-1421 to 3-1429.
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