Idaho open range laws draw scrutiny following...

Posted at 6:44 PM, Dec 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-11 20:44:14-05

The majority of Idaho is considered open range. It's a foundation of the state, stretching back decades in support of our agricultural heritage. But people in Boise are asking if it's time the old laws are brought up to date.

Ken Cole of the Western Watersheds Project says the accident in Council that resulted in the death of Jack Yantis is just one more instance of failed laws. In open range a bull got loose and, for Cole, there was far too little incentive for it to stay penned up.

"There should be some responsibility for the ranchers to keep them off of highways," he said.
For nearly a century Idaho law has protected ranchers from liability if their livestock gets out. If you hit a cow in open range not only will you have to cover repairs or medical costs to yourself you'll have to cover any losses to the rancher.

"The taxpayer shouldn't be put on the hook for someone's private property being on a highway," said Cole.
According to the Idaho Transportation Department there were 1,374 car accidents with animals in 2014. Of those, only 297 involved livestock.

"We have thousands and thousands of miles of fences and roadways,” said Wyatt Prescott, Executive Vice President of the Idaho Cattle Association. “No matter what we do as cattle producers they're still animals and there are events and circumstances that can lead to those animals escaping and getting onto a roadway."

According to Prescott, ranchers have every incentive to keep livestock off the roads but need protection from inevitable escapes.

"Them being out is not only dangerous to the public, but it doesn't work in our system,” he said. “But regardless there's not 100% of them staying in. That's why it's crucial to us."

Beyond that, Prescott says what happened in Council has nothing to do with open range.

"That animal did not get out because of open range laws,” he said. “There's just no other way to state that. Regardless of what we do animals can get out."

"A lot of people were hurt by this,” said Cole. “The drivers in the car, Mr. Yantis. It is time to talk about these things."

The issue of open range isn't likely to get much play in the Legislature. The long-standing tradition has wide support amongst the agricultural lobby and Idaho has far more farmers representing it than the national average.