How open range ranching applies to non ranchers

The laws around open range ranching are the opposite of what one would expect closer to civilization. But you have to know the rights and duties of yourself and the rancher to live in harmony.

It is a scenario that is common in small towns. Fred and Edna enter the cafe and pull out the few dollars they have left for a chicken fried steak. Flo looks through the window and gasps in horror. She asks: "What happened to your truck??"

Fred sighs and replies, "Hit a cow."

"Oh dear! How much do you have to pay the rancher?"

If you don't live on a piece of land, you might think, "Wait a minute. Doesn't the rancher have to pay for the truck? What about Fred's insurance? What is the rancher's cattle doing on the road? How irresponsible!"

This is the difference between open-air rentals.

In most places in Canada and the eastern United States, owners are required to fence in their livestock. But the West is wilder, rougher, more open and relaxed. Fences have not yet been built in some of the more extensive areas, but the rancher still has the right to graze on the land. State-owned properties, such as z.B. BLM or Forest Service lands, may not be fenced at all.

Why there is Open Range

Much of the Wild West was unregulated. Pioneers traveled by covered wagon, staked a homesteading claim and built houses. Laws regulated little in those days, including how to raise livestock. And even before the western territories became states, land that was not privately owned was free for public use. Cowboys drove cattle from hill to hill to calve and grow while consuming available grass and water. Then the cowboys rounded up the adult cattle and drove them to market. Ranchers branded their cattle to identify them. Since unbranded animals were unidentifiable, anyone who could capture them could claim them for themselves.

In the 1870s, barbed wire was invented as a cheaper way to keep cattle in. But that led to problems when ranchers fenced off land they didn't own, keeping out other ranchers who had just as much right to graze their cattle on the same hills. Vigilantes cut fences while states tried to enforce fencing. The solution was to ban fencing on public lands.

Eventually, civilization grew with the development of railroads and mining, and laws arose in more populated areas to control cattle. But where there were more cattle than people, they were rarely challenged.

Hills and prairies are vast. Water is widely dispersed. It made more sense to build an expensive fence around homes and businesses than around the entire area. Where grazing still exists, the rules are simple: if you don't want cattle on your property, build a fence.

Definition of the grazing law

Although regulations vary from state to state, grazing is defined the same way. Nevada law in NRS 568.Section 355 defines Open Range as "all unfenced land outside cities and towns on which cattle, sheep, or other domestic animals may be grazed or roam by custom, license, lease, or permit."

Thirteen states, from Texas and Colorado westward, have some form of open range law.

Ranchers can rarely graze their cattle on public land just because it exists. You must obtain a permit and pay for it. Livestock cannot trample protected lands such as national parks. Conservation efforts, such as z.B. trying to save endangered fish species can also impede grazing. Livestock are rarely, if ever, allowed to roam within urban areas. But they retain full rights in unprotected areas.

Their rights and responsibilities

A freelance photographer in Arizona forgot to close his gate after driving his mother to the hospital. When he got home, 20 head of cattle were tramping around his yard. Angered and intending only to scare the animals away, he shot his .22 rifle and ended up killing a cow on his own property. He found himself in handcuffs, charged with a felony. He claimed self defense. His mother had Alzheimer's, and he had to protect his property. But Ken Knudson faced years of legal trouble that eventually became his undoing.

If you plan to farm land, check out local laws. Find out if you live in a "herd district" where the owner must fence the animals, or in "open range" ranching areas where you must fence out other people's animals. Herd districts protect the homeowner. If cattle invade your property, trample your yard, injure your dog, and scratch your car, you can sue the rancher because his animals should be fenced in.

And if you live near pastures, build the fence before problems arise. Building your own fence is a lot of work at first, but it saves you from expensive legal problems later on. Check with your homesteading community to find out what type of fence you should build. Cattle can kick apart pole fences, but they avoid the pain of barbed wire. Grazing land is often shared by livestock and wildlife, which means that simple barbed wire may protect you legally, but it won't keep deer out of your cornfield.

When you're on the road, look for the yellow diamond-shaped signs with a black cow and the words "Open Range". Be vigilant. In the winter, cattle may be lying on warm asphalt. They can congregate along the dotted yellow line in the middle of the dark, starless night. It's your job to slow down and go around them.

Cattle drives are becoming rarer, but they still exist. In some states, ranchers must warn drivers of cattle on the road with lights and signals; in others, drivers must be alert. Even if you're in a hurry and two hundred head of Herefords and a slush-slick highway make you late, you need to proceed with caution until you're completely clear of cattle and the families driving them down the road.

And if you hit a cow, report it immediately to your local sheriff's department and your insurance company. You must reimburse the rancher for the cost of the cow. In addition, you are responsible for the damage to your own vehicle. If you need to hire an attorney, keep in mind that the attorney has probably already been involved with cases involving open range law. If the lawyer tells you that the rights belong to the rancher, there is little you can do to change that.

Interstates are already fenced, but too many highways pass through isolated pastureland to justify building costly barriers. Ranchers try to keep their cattle off the highways. The cost to ranchers is so high that they move their animals to safety to avoid situations where motorists maim or kill their animals and then drive away in vehicles still in running condition and refuse to report the accident. But cattle do what they will. Despite ranchers' best efforts, cattle wander onto the road.

Open Range Ranching

Ranchers' rights and responsibilities

In 2007, a man in southern Nevada ran over a local rancher's cattle. The family of the deceased man accused the rancher of negligence and sued her for a million dollars. Although the case should have been dismissed because the cow was on open range, the attorney failed to follow protocol. The case went to court several times. Ultimately, the judge agreed with the rancher's attorney when he claimed that Ms. Fallini had done nothing wrong. Under state law, she was not held responsible for the accident or death.

Although Fallini was a triumph for the ranching community, it also sparked fears. What if the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff and the rancher lost everything because someone hit one of her cows?

NRS 568.360 states, "No person … owning, controlling, or possessing a domestic animal running on open range shall have any duty to keep the animal off any road crossing or upon the open range, and no such person … shall be liable for damages."This means the rancher is not at fault, whether the accident causes extensive damage or death, as long as his cattle are running on land they are allowed to use. Fence or no fence.

But although these 13 states have open-range laws, very few allow ranchers to graze their animals on or near the highway. Among those that do not hold ranchers accountable are Wyoming and Nevada. In Utah, cattle are not allowed to graze on the highway if both sides of the road are separated from adjacent properties by a fence, wall, hedge, sidewalk, curb, lawn or building. California allows free running only within six counties.

Some states, like Idaho, are "fence out" states. This means that livestock owners are not responsible for damage to property, gardens, shrubbery, or injury to people or other animals. Homeowners have a responsibility to build strong fences to keep livestock out.

Living in harmony

Resistance to the open range law is an important factor in the struggle and downfall of modern livestock farming. City dwellers moving to the countryside with the new wave of homesteaders don't want to slow down for cattle on the road. They don't want to fence their properties and they are quick to blame the ranchers for damages.

The gap widens as people's understanding moves further away from the ways of the Old West. Free-range beef is grass-fed beef. Ranchers are the last of the original settlers, living generation after generation on the land their great-grandparents claimed when the states were territories. But modern times are pushing them out. Lack of cooperation and unwillingness to work within the established system leads to legal problems and a fight to change the laws. Tempers flare in small communities.

The Oregonian newspaper reported in 1997 that about a thousand motorists a year hit livestock in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. Several drivers die. But ranchers can't afford to fence off all the land their cattle graze on, and often aren't able to fence off federal land. Even if they could, the cost would be devastating to local settler communities.

Even ranchers argue with other ranchers. Some are in favor of fencing off the pastureland. Purebred Hereford and Angus herds are being raided by crossbreeding from another ranch. Small town mayors want to support free range, but they want livestock to stop defecating within city limits.

Even though every year the laws of the Old West are brought into modern times, it is everyone's responsibility to educate themselves about free-range ranching, for the benefit or detriment of ranchers. If you are moving to a cattle or sheep area, familiarize yourself with the locals. Inquire about the laws or look them up yourself. Know your rights and those of the ranchers. Sometimes just educating yourself and being willing to slow down and cooperate can save you expensive trouble later on.