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Agriculture committee highlights fencing statutes and provisions

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Riverton – The Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee met Sept. 1-2 to continue the committee’s interim work. One topic of discussion focused on fencing statutes and provisions.  

Fencing statutory
provisions 

Legislative Service Office Staff Attorney Lucas Plumb briefly discussed a topic summary in regards to Wyoming statutory fence law provisions in Wyoming Statutes Title 11 – Agriculture, Livestock and Other Animals and Chapter 28 – Fences and Cattle Guards of Wyoming statute. 

“The definition of an owner of a fence is a person who occupies, uses, enjoys, maintains or has charge of an enclosure, and that makes them considered the owner of a fence in question,” stated Plumb. “The owner of the fence is the responsible party for any action commenced under the statutory provisions for fences and cattle guards.” 

Within the Wyoming statute, there are three distinct types of lawful fences, in addition to a general catch-all category. Types of lawful fence include a barbed wire fence, post and board fence and a pole fence, he explained. 

“Essentially, any fence declared as strong and well calculated to protect enclosures can be considered a lawful fence – it can be constructed by using various materials such as boards, rails, poles, stones, hedge plants, etc. to be considered a lawful fence,” he said. “They have to be able to resist a breach by stock animals in the same manner as the other three distinct types of lawful fences.” 

There is also discussion in statute of any fences enclosing any hay corrals set outside a field or pasture, he mentioned.  

“Those fences have to be constructed with boards, poles or wires and they have to be at least six feet tall,” he said. “If the fence is built using barbed wire, it has to be built with at least seven strands of wire.”  

Statute does note an owner can be liable in a civil action for any damage to animals as a result of an unlawful wire fence. Property owners are guilty of a misdemeanor if an unlawful wire fence is maintained with owners subjected to a fine of five dollars to $25, with the fine increasing by $25 to $100 for each new offense, and the owner may be required to rebuild the fence to a lawful fence within 30 days of conviction. 

“There are several other fence provisions including fences crossing a public road or a road leading to a watering place. They must be constructed of boards or poles and extend no less than eight feet on each side of the middle of the road – it is a misdemeanor if landowners do not comply with this provision,” he said.  

Plumb also discussed partition fences during his presentation, sharing landowners of the neighboring land can petition the landowner pay for half of the cost of the fence. 

Fence out state 

“Wyoming is considered a ‘fence out’ state for cattle and horses, but a ‘fence in’ state for sheep,” mentioned Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “Another thing that has been somewhat of an interest is, the ‘fence out’ principle which was well established in Wyoming is not in statute.” 

Early in our statehood, perhaps even before statehood, under the common law, landowners were required to fence livestock in and Wyoming rejected the common law and established the current principal which has been upheld by our courts of being a ‘fence out’ state for cattle — that holds to this day and is certainly something we want to continue to hold,” he added.  

Suggested provisions  

“I don’t believe our fence statutes have been amended in quite a number of years, and the way fences are built and the types of fences being used has changed over the years,” Magagna said. 

He recommended changes to current statute including: clarifying the definition of a legal fence; changing penalty fees; updating the subdivision statute to require owners of lands adjacent to a subdivision to share only the cost of a minimum subdivision legal fence, rather than a more expensive fence; and removing provisions allowing for the retaining of animals for damages done on a property. 

“If changes were made in the types of fences, the liability for the first offense is five dollars to $25 and for the second offense, $25 to $100. In today’s world, five dollars isn’t a meaningful measure of liability, so if we’re going to maintain liability – it should be a more reasonable level,” said Magagna.  

Wyoming Statutes Title 11 – Agriculture, Livestock and Other Animals Chapter 28 – Fences and Cattle guards states, “The person suffering damage may restrain and keep in custody as many of the offending animals as are equal in value to the damage done, until the finding of the court or arbitration is ascertained, unless before suit the amount of his claim and expense of keeping the animals is tendered to him.” 

One concern here is cows could be separated from their calves and ewes from their lambs, mentioned Magagna. 

As times change, another consideration for fencing provisions would be with virtual fencing, he added.

Draft bill 

Sen. Brian Boner proposed a draft bill to cover the following areas: the clarification on increasing fines of an unlawful fence and clarifying subdivisions and any additional costs above what is required for a legal fence. 

“The motion would be to deal with the fencing issue, the level and cost of the fines and clarity on subdivisions,” recapped Rep. and Chairman John Eklund.

Sen. Boner proposed the motion and Rep. Jim Blackburn seconded the motion. The motion was then passed unanimously by the committee.

To listen to the full meeting, visit wyoleg.gov/Committees/2022/J05.

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.

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