Sheep fence Bill addresses subdivision conflict
Dubois – The ongoing issue of fencing between subdivisions and existing livestock operations was discussed at the April 19-20 meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee in Dubois.
Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Executive Vice President Bryce Reece was present to update the legislators on the approaches that could be taken to solve the conflict.
“The issue is in rural areas where lands are being subdivided and broken up to become rural subdivisions, particularly when they come up against existing sheep operations,” explained Reece.
Reece said the Wyoming state statute never specifically mentions the phrases “fence in” or “fence out.”
“But Wyoming is fence in and fence out, because Wyoming was declared to be an open range state in the courts early on,” said Reece. “And the courts have defined over the years that ‘fence out’ only applies to cattle.”
He added statute does specify that if livestock breach a fence the owner is responsible for damages caused by the animals.
“Our issue comes from rural areas where subdivisions are going in, and folks don’t understand the concept of fences,” said Reece, noting Johnson County has had the most conflicts. “There are situations where an existing operation has had a perimeter fence that has served the purpose well, and that might just be a legal fence with three strands of barbed wire. For sheep, if the ground is similar on either side there’s no reason to breach, but if a subdivision comes in with lawns, bushes and attractions, then the fence doesn’t serve the purpose. Sheep breach the fence, the folks that bought the ground are mad, and because Wyoming is fence in for sheep, it falls to producers to keep the sheep on his side of the fence.”
“The producer with his existing operation is receiving no monetary value, and this is causing a lot of problems,” said Reece. “We’re trying to keep Wyoming’s sheep industry moving and intact, and this is causing increasing conflicts where one of the first solution for a producer is to subdivide his land, but that’s not where we as an industry want to go.”
The bill proposed by WWGA would be added to the subdivision statutes already in place.
“The bill proposes that if a rural area is subdivided, as a part of getting permits the developer would have to go to the county commissioners to show they’d reached an agreement with the landowner across the fence, or if sheep had run on the ground for 30 consecutive days in the last 12 months, they’d have to construct a sheep-type fence, which is 32-inch net wire with two strands of barbed wire on the top,” explained Reece. “That would fall on the subdivider, and that kind of fence would alleviate the problem of sheep breaching and escaping.”
Reece said he’d called two fence contractors, and that type of fence averages $15,000 per mile to construct.
“That’s a lot, and the real estate folks and subdividers don’t like that, but our folks don’t like it either, because that’s the fence they’re faced with constructing to keep livestock on their side of the fence,” he said.
Because county commissioners can choose to exempt themselves from state subdivision statutes, Reece said the bill includes a provision that says in the event the minimum fence requirements are not met, the landowner will not be held liable for damages.
Alternatively, Reece also outlined a suggestion by Wyoming Association of Realtors lobbyist Laurie Urbigkit, which would indicate that all rural platted subdivisions are responsible for fencing out livestock.
“Then we don’t have to go into the subdivision statutes, and it’s not one more requirement for someone wanting to develop a subdivision – it just falls on the folks in the subdivision,” said Reece, noting that would also alleviate the problem, and WWGA is willing to go with that approach.
While the first bill would apply only to new subdivisions going forward, Urbigkit’s bill would apply to all subdivisions, both existing and future.
While the bills would represent a policy change, Reece said it’s narrow and defined.
“It’s an evolution of where our state’s going, and where our state will continue to go, and the conflicts will continue to increase,” he noted. “This is to help the industry and producers that are out there, and this would essentially alleviate the problem.”
The committee moved to move both drafts forward for further analysis at their Oct. 4-5 meeting in Buffalo.