TWIN FALLS • Every cow knows the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
But when the cow pushes that fence over and gets hit by a car, who’s liable? That depends on the zone, says Range Deputy Kelly Wilson.
Idaho is an open-range state, meaning cows, horses and sheep have the right of way.
“If a cow is killed in open range, the driver is liable for the price of the cow,” Wilson said. “And for fixing the damage to his own car.”
But legislators recognized long ago that driving through an open range can be dangerous and gave counties the ability to create “herd districts.”
In herd districts, livestock owners must build and maintain adequate fences to keep their animals off roads and neighboring properties.
If a car kills a cow in a herd district, Wilson said, the cow’s owner is liable.
Fourteen herd districts cover about one-third of Twin Falls County, mostly in the northern, more heavily populated area along U.S. 30.
In the county’s west end, herd zones reach as far south as the Roseworth area and as far as Rogerson along U.S. 93.
Fewer Calls in Open Range
Open range doesn’t mean livestock should roam freely on roads, Wilson said. No rancher wants to risk losing a cow, but it happens.
“Range cows are used to going anywhere they want,” he said. “And they’re not afraid of a fence.”
But most livestock calls to the Sheriff’s Office are about loose animals in herd districts.
“We try to work with everybody,” Wilson said. “But after repeated warnings, we can cite (the owner) for allowing them to roam or for having inadequate fences.”
Rarely will a motorist know when he passes from open range to a herd district, and it shouldn’t matter, he said.
“Drivers should be paying attention to what’s ahead of them, anticipating what is farther down the road. Not only are there cows and horses on the roads, but wildlife too.”
As wolves push elk and moose farther from wilderness, car collisions with wildlife are becoming more frequent. They can be deadly, Wilson said, especially on interstates.
Many miles of interstates cross open range districts, and the Idaho Transportation Department fences them to keep animals out of traffic, said spokesman Nathan Jerke.
Rick Dunn, county Planning and Zoning administrator, said the only calls he gets about herd districts and open range are from insurance agents after a collision.