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January 7th, 2013
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Open Range fiasco in Rio Rico

When I moved to Rio Rico from Patagonia in May 2012, I was aware that Rio Rico was still, for some reason, considered ‘open range’, despite being a primarily residential area. This means that cattle are free to roam practically anywhere they want.

Now, cows are quite charming, gentle animals. I like them. I confess that I enjoy beef, although I’m trying to eat less because of the devastating effect that cattle have on the overall environment. I’m also a firm believer in supporting local businesses and not burdening them with unnecessary red tape. The organic, grass-fed beef produced here in Santa Cruz County, especially from the beautiful San Rafael Valley, is some of the best available anywhere.

However, the cows wandering around unchecked in Rio Rico are a genuine hazard to motorists. A few months ago I came extremely close to hitting a black cow at night along Pendleton Drive, despite the slow and cautious manner in which I drive. You just can’t see black cows at night, and they have a tendancy to wander into the middle of the road at any time. There have been multiple accidents involving cows along Pendleton Drive and in other parts of Rio Rico. There was a dead cow next to Rio Rico Drive in early December, alongside the railroad tracks. It had obviously been hit by a train, so it’s also a major problem for the railroad company and the safety of their drivers.

And that’s not to mention the cows themselves, which presumably aren’t too keen on being mowed down by traffic either!

None of this has caused me too much trouble. Just drive carefully and keep your wits about you, and you should be fine. But the cows, bless them, don’t stop there.

My nine acre parcel used to be fenced, by the look of it, although the fence is lying on the ground. I have no idea if the fences were taken down by the previous owner, or if they were knocked down by cows. I don’t particularly want to put the fences back up. I’d much rather have open access so that wildlife can enter and exit my property unencumbered. But, as well as wildlife, I apparently have to contend with other people’s livestock.

The cows haven’t caused a particular problem on my property until the past few weeks. Unfortunately, they seem to have discovered me, and they like it. That would be fine if they didn’t cause so much damage. But they do, lots of it.

In the past two days, a herd of eight cows, six huge adults and two calves, have been trashing my yard. They’ve set me back months in my landscaping work.

They apparently like my tiny pond  (it’s only about three feet by two feet) which has been all but emptied on numerous occasions. They’ve broken my solar pump, which was keeping the water clear, fresh and suitable for wildlife to drink. The pond is now filled with rocks and debris, and the tell-tale sign of cholla stems, which are always stuck to the poor cows’ faces as they stumble through the desert trying to find enough to eat.

Yesterday I caught them trashing my pond again, so I ran them off. One of the cows was actually in the pond! Yet again, I repaired everything as best I could.

This morning I awoke to find that they’d been back overnight, and not only trashed the pond once more, but also completely wrecked all my bird feeders. I’d erected a stand, a stout, purpose-built metal pole that was sunk eighteen inches into the ground. The cows had managed to snap it off near the base, resulting in a seed feeder and a hummingbird feeder being smashed (as well as the pole, which wasn’t cheap). The suet feeders didn’t fare any better, although I’ve been able to bend them back into a usable shape. The rest of my feeders were hanging from an ‘artificial’ tree made from a mesquite stump with large branches attached. They were all down and trampled, with many of the branches broken off, and another seed feeder and hummingbird feeder smashed to pieces.

On further inspection there was even more damage. I’ve spent a huge amount of time researching, selecting, transporting and planting native trees, in order to enhance the environment with a greater diversity of native species and add new feeding sources for a variety of wildlife. Sadly the cows have all but killed several of my new trees; a netleaf hackberry, a Mexican elderberry and, most disappointingly, a beautiful Arizona rosewood have all been nibbled down almost to the ground and will now never become the big, healthy specimens I’d envisaged. The cows also halved the size of my pyracantha bush and have eaten and trampled several prickly pears along the front wall.

I don’t blame the cows themselves, which are sweet, if stupid animals. They are simply doing whatever they can to survive in an environment they’re clearly not suited to. The problem lies with disreputable ranchers who are apparently happy for their livestock to roam the streets, presumably because it’s cheaper and easier than running a business properly. The nub of the issue is the archaic law that allows ranchers to do this in what’s quite clearly a residential area.

After a little research I discovered that I’m not alone in being concerned by this issue, and that moves were already afoot to address the problem. This article by Nogales International highlights the situation.

I decided it was time I got involved and had my voice heard. I contacted John Maynard, Santa Cruz County Supervisor and Rio Rico resident. The response from John was fabulous and went some way to restoring my faith in local politics. John has been involved with this issue for some time and is determined to reach a resolution with all parties. I’d like to thank him for his prompt and courteous replies. John pointed me towards Bill Cox, who heads a local residents’ group that are tackling the problem. It’s great to know that local people are getting together to address problems in the community, and I’m happy to be involved.

The predictable stance from those opposed to repealing the open range law is: you knew it was open range when you moved here, you should have stayed away if you didn’t like it. That’s true in as much as I knew it was open range and I appreciated what that might entail. However, I moved to Rio Rico knowing that it won’t be open range for long, as it’s clearly a residential area and surely this outdated approach is on its way out. Let’s face it, it was appropriate once upon a time for people to run in front of cars waving red flags, but I doubt many people still hold this view. Times change, whether we like it or not. The open range law comes from the same, long gone era. Although some people are determined to remain steadfastly in the 1880s as far as Arizona’s ‘wild west’ attitude goes, it’s now 2013… twenty thirteen! It’s high time that we woke up and started to act like grown ups in a modern world.

Fingers crossed, with the dedicated work of upstanding citizens like John and Bill, we can drag Arizona kicking and screaming into the 21st century…

5 comments to Open Range fiasco in Rio Rico

  • Charley Hansen

    Well-written article. It seems to state the problem fairly and with sympathy to the ranchers & the cows. With illegals and ATVrs coming through and cutting fences, it appears that land-owners who want to keep the cows out will probably have to put up their own fences. Perhaps the fences could be made so high enough to keep out cows, but with some space at the bottom to allow wildlife through? Just a thought.

  • Sorry to hear about your yard Richard. My wife grew up off Pendleton and remembers waking up to the sound of cows munching on her mom’s flowers on the window sill. She also remembers people having to pay a rancher for a cow they hit on that road after if died, ridiculous. I hope this problem gets resolved ASAP.

  • Arrgh! I would have cried out of frustration. I’m really sorry to hear about your travails, and yes, it makes my pocket-gopher a silly issue. (I’ve already put a trap in my Amazon shopping cart.) At least your plants were still young and you have a chance to catch back up. I thought the state-wide “fence-out” law was outrageously archaic when I learned about it back in the old 20th century. Mining laws too. But as you note, we’re in the 21st century now.

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