The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writers.
If you reside in rural Arizona, your private property is most likely in a “Fence Out” District — basically just another way of saying “Open Range.” You must fence out freely roaming livestock (FRL). If you do that, and FRL breaks down the fences or is still able to trespass because your neighbor took down the fence, or randomly roaming livestock is accessing your property via public roads, owners of freely roaming livestock are not liable for damages to your property.
In fact, if you harm livestock on your property, you are liable to pay the owner for damages to that animal. But in a “No Fence District,” livestock are not permitted to roam at large, and owners of FRL are liable for trespass damages. In a No Fence District, the owner of livestock who recklessly allows or permits livestock to run at large within said district is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, and in addition is liable for damages to private property, regardless of whether the property is fenced or not.
In a No Fence District, FRL can be seized and sold at auction by the proper authorities, and in fact, proper authorities are obligated to remove livestock by any means necessary. While it is all but impossible to get any political body to address or government agency to change existing laws, there is an avenue to have many rural areas designated as a No Fence Districts: A majority of property owners in these areas simply need to create, sign and address a petition to their Board of Supervisors, requesting that they designate these areas as No Fence Districts.
By far the majority of ranchers in Arizona are conscientious about keeping their livestock on their property, but because Arizona’s Open Range and Fence Out statutes have not been revised since they were written shortly after Arizona became a state, there are some ranchers who openly allow their livestock to become weapons of mass destruction against their neighbors, without penalty or consequence. These few nefarious individuals create unimaginable hardships for legitimate property owners who suffer the consequences and dangers of randomly roving FRL, but have little to no recourse.
How is it even within the realm of possibilities that unscrupulous owners of cattle — the largest, most destructive (think 1,500-pound goats), most dangerous and potentially lethal domestic animals — are allowed to let them roam anywhere except for their own property? In addition to irreversible damages to private property on state and federal lands, precious natural water resources are being fouled and destroyed, fragile desert habitats are being decimated, and endangered species of both flora and fauna are being displaced.
It is a sad fact that no agency is tasked with enforcement of the statutes, which are unimaginably vague. Unscrupulous livestock owners are free to claim easements that have laid dormant on private or state-owned property for years, while at the same time claiming they are not responsible for fencing their livestock onto their property, because Arizona is a Fence Out state. When even the state does not have the resources or manpower to comply with the draconian measures required to fence out FRL, how can private property owners be expected to bear that burden?
Dan and Denice Hatch live near Willcox.