Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
October 9, 2010
Even in this small valley, or maybe particularly in this small vale, two disparate worlds, ne’er to be reconciled, are joined at the hip, for better or worse. Which side of the fence is greener depends on which side one stands. Do they have all that security at “celebrity” parties to keep the riffraff out, or in?
The West, as we still believe it to be, reflects open spaces, blue skies, and “land, lots of land under starry skies above,” in which to freely roam. At least according to Cole Porter’s song, “Don’t Fence Me In.”
But there’s a flaw in Porter’s thinking: Fences are rarely about keeping livestock (or people) in but more about keeping critters out. Beginning in the 1800s, land barons built fences around thousands of acres of land they controlled, mainly to keep the cattle or sheep of free-ranging ranchers out of the water holes contained therein. Wire was cheaper than hired guns.
Early on, the biggest purchasers of newfangled barbed wire were the railroads, who used it to keep livestock off their rights-of-way. Governments today rely on fences to keep cattle, elk, deer and horses off public roads.
Range wars don’t happen much anymore, but there’s still an occasional flare-up over wandering cattle or horses. If you live near or alongside the national forest, you know that cattle begin wandering home in the autumn. You’re probably also aware that cows are great opportunists who don’t mind getting into what’s left of your flower or vegetable gardens; love scratching themselves against the posts holding up your porch, or evacuating their bladders and bowels all over your yard or driveway.
This is where the fences come in, for those of you who hadn’t thought about it. If you fence them out of your property, they just keep moseying toward home, leaving your stuff alone. I know that may be antithetical as to whom some of you thought should be doing the fencing, but it’s true, nonetheless.
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In the early 1880s, the Colorado Legislature passed the “Open Range,” or what is more commonly referred to as the “fenced out” statute. This doesn’t mean that ranchers can let their cattle vagabond all over the place without supervision; it means that for you to collect any damages incurred by roaming livestock, you first need to have a legal fence, in good repair, installed to prevent trespass by livestock. Gates need to be kept closed, and the property completely bounded.
From time to time, we hear the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners discuss the applicability of agricultural zoning on certain parcels, and question the validity of those operations. It seems clear that a requisite of high priority would be the existence of legal and effective fences. That, among other things, spells serious agricultural use.
Some people obviously spend a lot of time designing a barrier around their property, but many of these are ineffective. If it doesn’t completely surround your property, including a gate, it is impotent against an invasion from livestock. From the number of “No Trespassing” signs one sees anymore, it’s clear many folks are a bit ownership proud, but don’t forget, cows and horses can’t read.
It can be frustrating driving cattle home from the forest when more than half of the properties along the trail don’t have adequate fencing. Most ranchers try valiantly to be good neighbors, and will sometimes even help with major repairs, if you ask. But to totally ignore your fences to a “wing and a prayer” and help from God is irresponsible and unneighborly.