If you reside in Sulphur Springs Valley or Kansas Settlement (with the exception of Old Stewart District), your private property is currently part of a “fence-out” district, which basically is just another way of saying “open range.”

You must fence out freely roaming livestock. If you do and freely roaming livestock break down the fences, or still are able to trespass because your neighbor took down the fence, or randomly roaming livestock are accessing your property via public roads, owners of freely roaming livestock are not liable for damages to your property caused by freely roaming livestock. In fact, if you harm any freely roaming livestock on your property, you are liable to pay the owner of that livestock for damages to that animal.

But in a no-fence district, livestock are not permitted to roam at large, and owners of livestock are liable for trespass damages if they allow their livestock to roam at large. In a no-fence district, the owner of livestock who recklessly allows or permits livestock to run at large within a no-fence 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, freely roaming livestock can be seized and sold at auction by the proper authorities; and, in fact, proper authorities are obligated to remove freely roaming livestock by any means necessary.While it is all but impossible to get any political body to address, or government agency to actually change, existing laws, there is an avenue to have all of Sulphur Springs Valley and Kansas Settlement redesignated as a no-fence district. A majority of property owners in these areas simply need to create, sign and address a petition to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, requesting that they designate these areas as a no-fence district. When lands are designated as a no fence-district, it is then unlawful for livestock to run at large in the district.By far, the majority of ranchers in the great state of Arizona are conscientious about keeping their livestock on their property. But, because Arizona’s open-range (nearly identical to 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 livestock 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-plus 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, endangered species of both flora and fauna are being displaced because of randomly roving livestock.It is a sad fact that no agency is tasked with enforcement of even the current statutes, which are unimaginably vague and open to interpretation. Unscrupulous livestock owners are free to claim easements that have lain dormant on private or state-owned property for years that can’t be gated or fenced off (access to private property for randomly roving livestock), 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 randomly roving livestock, how can private property owners be expected to bear that burden? It is a truly absurd situation, but one that can be addressed by changing the status of our area from fence-out district to a no-fence district.Yes, open range and fence-out still has their place in Arizona, but if you can see two or more neighbors from your yard, if you can go to church, send your children to school, put fuel in your vehicle and go shopping within minutes from your property, if nearby roads are mostly paved, it should not be your responsibility to keep someone else’s livestock off from your property. You should be able to freely enjoy your property without worry that randomly roaming livestock will decimate your property or worse —injure, maim for life or possibly even kill someone you love.

Dan and Denice Hatch


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