As much as we appreciate the culture and spirit of the West and the value of cattle ranching in New Mexico, we, like many residents of North Hills and Northern Meadows, wouldn’t be putting out welcome mats for the roaming livestock that frequently descend on their neighborhoods.
Mike Lizzi of the Northern Meadows Property Owners Association said 15 head visited the neighborhood as recently as Sunday night. It’s hardly a new problem. The peaceful but massive animals have sauntered into those areas from the sprawling mesa to the west for years, sometimes more urgently when drought conditions put the kibosh on decent grazing areas.
To them, a tidy, green lawn must be pretty appetizing — yet, who could live with the damage and mess they leave behind in yards, sidewalks and even to vehicles a little too close to their paths? Lizzi said the damages in Northern Meadows run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Rio Rancho police recently responded to the neighborhood complaints by filing charges against rancher Bill King, son of the late governor and rancher himself, Bruce King, for “permitting livestock to trespass upon cultivated fields and gardens” and “permitting livestock to run at large in town.” The alleged violations — to which King has pleaded not guilty — occurred on June 6 and June 13.
The language in the charges might sound straight out of the Old West, but a guilty verdict could land the rancher in jail for up to a year and cost him a $1,000 fine.
We wouldn’t want to see that outcome, and truth be told, it isn’t likely a judge would be that harsh. In fact, even our mayor tends to think precedent in a “free range” state like ours favors the rancher. Free range has been interpreted to mean it is not livestock owners’ responsibility to keep fences in good repair; rather it’s up property owners who desire to keep animals out to put up and maintain their own fences.
However, the case against King — whose cattle were roaming the mesa long before the subdivisions were built — clearly brings the issue to a head. And before it proceeds to trial, we’d encourage the parties to sit down again to try to hammer out a solution, appreciating that there is a significant cost involved, that city funds are limited and that residents might not think the cost is theirs to bear.
We believe King when he says the ranch has made good faith efforts to keep the animals out of the subdivisions. We also think he was sincere in offering to pay for the labor needed to fence areas necessary to accomplish that, if the subdivision paid for the materials. Admittedly not knowing how much material is needed or at what price, we suspect labor would represent the biggest share of the cost.
Perhaps there are other potential resources to be explored for materials: federal ranching grants, the state legislative appropriations, or assistance from Sandoval County, which has jurisdiction over the unincorporated areas where the animals graze. Rio Rancho is not the lone municipality to border grazing lands. What are the experiences of other communities?
One party should not be absolved in the matter: It is the people who run their ATVs and recreational vehicles roughshod over the mesa, cutting fences and shooting at anything that makes a target. King said vandals even destroyed a water tank and burned one of his water trucks and a grader. Their actions are not only detrimental to King but offensive and often dangerous to anyone trying to enjoy the beauty of the mesa’s open rangeland.