At the University of Arizona, we know all too well that Arizona’s history is intertwined with livestock grazing. Grazing is still the primary land use in 73% of the state. As development expands into areas traditionally used for farming and ranching, the potential for conflict between livestock owners and homeowners increases. Regardless of whether you have many, few, or no animals, you must be aware of your responsibilities towards your neighbors’ livestock. The details of your responsibilities—and your liability—depend on where you live and whether you have a suitable fence around your property.
Interpretation of “open range” is often sought by motorists or landowners receiving visits from neighboring livestock. Interpretation is not easily found because there is no actual law in Arizona defining “open range”. It is further complicated in this area by alternating land ownership, or “checkerboard”. There are, however, nine state statutes that comprise Arizona’s open range laws (Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) Title 3, Chapter 11, Article 8). If you find yourself in a conflict, consider reviewing the statutes and visit your county or municipal planning and zoning department. Here are some key points related to open range and No-Fence Districts.
County Boards of Supervisors have the authority to designate No-Fence Districts. Contact your county’s Clerk of the Board of Supervisors office to find out if you live within a No-Fence District.
If you do live in a No-Fence District, liability for property damage by stray livestock falls on the livestock owner.
If, like most Arizona residents, you DO NOT live in a No-Fence District, it is your responsibility to fence out unwanted livestock using a “Lawful Fence,” as defined in ARS 3-1426. This is especially important in areas on your property that contain gardens or ornamental plants where livestock could cause significant damage. Having a lawful fence is necessary in any action to recover damages due to trespassing animals.
If livestock break through a lawful fence and cause damage to your property, you are entitled to file with your justice of the peace or your superior court to recover damages.
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.
Even as a small-acreage landowner, if you own livestock that does damage to someone else’s property and they either live in a No-Fence District OR have built and maintained a legal fence, you will be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor and are liable for damages.
If involved in an automobile accident with livestock, contact your county’s Clerk of the Board of Supervisors office to find out if the accident location is in a No-Fence District and if you have any legal recourse. As mentioned previously, if an accident outside of a No-Fence District results in a dead animal, you are liable to the owner for his or her loss.
Adapted from University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Publication AZ1533, “Arizona’s Open Range Law”, by Glenn and Dola.