LIVE STOCK FENCE LAWS: in versus out I BIG SKY SMALL ACREs

Jeff Mosley
unpublished
Understandlng the legal rights and responsibilities of land ownership is an tmportant part of rural land stewardshlp in Montana. Weed control laws and water rights, for example, are two common topics where lack of understanding can lead t0 unnecessary conflicts wlth neighbors. Livestock fenclng laws are another potential source of misunderstanding' Every rural Montana landowner should know whether they are responsible for fencing their land to keep their own livestock withtn the confines of
more » ... the confines of their property, or whether they are responsible for fencing their land when they want to prevent other people's livestock from roaming onto their pr0perty. ln other words, "Do I need to'fence in'my livestock, or do I need to'fence out'other people's livestock?" The answer depends upon whether the land is legally classified as "0pen range" or "closed range"' 0n "open range" the property owner is responsible for fencing neighboring livestock out. 0n "closed range," the livestock owner is responsible for fencing livestock in. Contact the Montana Department of Llvestock to find out the range designation in y0ur area. Also be sure t0 review any subdivisi0n covenants that may apply to your property 0r your neighbors'. For example, rural subdivlsion covenants often require lot owners within the subdivision to confine their livestock within their lot boundartes' However, if the rural subdivision is adjoined by open range, it is the responsibility of the subdivision lot owner to fence their property boundary if they don't want Iivestock from the open range area roaming onto their lot. Construction of a new home within open range, or in a subdivision adjoined by open range, is a potential source of conflict among rural residents. Most homeowners would be horrified to find livestock seeking shelter within their under-construction dream house, or to dlscover livestock rubbing against unprotected water or propane pipes and electrical outlet boxes. Such conflicts can be avoided while a home is being built by inquiring with neighboring ranchers about the time of year livestock usually graze in the area and by installing permanent or temp0rary fences during construction' Ranchers should also keep apprised of new construction in the area and alert their neighbors as t0 when roaming livestock may visit the construction site. Most of Montana is classified as open range, but closed range exists within all incorporated cities and towns. Closed range also exists within unincorporated, rural areas designated as "herd districts." Montana fence law allows county commissioners to create herd districts when a majority of the land ownership in the proposed district petiti0ns the county commissioners in favor of the new designation. Within open range, one exception to fencing responsibility occurs with federal land boundaries. Livestock owners are responsible to prevent livestock from illegally trespassing onto federal land, including lands administered by the U'S' Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Therefore, lf your rural property adjoins federal land, and you do not 12
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