Arizona's not really "Rethinking Open Range Laws," despite a New York Times article published on Monday with that headline.
The article by Marc Lacey offers only one source to back up that headline, Democratic State Representative Daniel Patterson of Tucson, who Lacey says has introduced a bill "pushing for an end to Arizona's open range law..."
Patterson's proposed change of law died in the last Legislative session without so much as a hearing.
In fact, Patterson -- who, like other State Representatives, is fighting to get re-elected in November -- refused to stand by the statements attributed to him in the article when we called him today.
We don't think the NY Times writer misquoted Patterson -- rather, it seems Patterson doesn't want to draw any more attention to his statements, even though he proudly posted the article on his own blog site.
The catchy headline drew us into the online article today. But we had to chuckle at the Lacey's outsider take, even before we talked to Patterson.
Bas Aja, the executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, said he had a similar reaction to the article.
"What do you expect from a New York City journalist?" Aja scoffed. "It's kind of like the Pace Picante ad."
You remember that one: New Yawk City? Get a rope! Lacey's article doesn't mention that Patterson's a Democrat, and how that's a major handicap for any lawmaker in the Republican-dominated State Legislature.
Patterson's party membership and the hasty demise of his proposed law negate the article's headline and thesis that "cow-friendly open range laws are under fresh scrutiny."
As mentioned, Patterson won't even agree if the New York Times characterized his efforts accurately.
The article states:
"People have been killed in collisions with large cows," said Daniel Patterson, an Arizona state representative from Tucson who is pushing to scale back the rights given cows and their owners in his state. "We need to get rid of this antiquated law from the 19th century. It's important for ranchers and other livestock owners to keep their cattle where they belong."
Mr. Patterson's bill pushing for an end to Arizona's open range law has encountered resistance from the influential Arizona Cattlemen's Association and has yet to gain traction.
Patterson would not agree or admit he's "pushing for an end to Arizona's open range law."
When we asked if the quote about "getting rid" of the open range law was correct, we got a 20-second pause.
"Hello?" we asked, thinking the call had been dropped.
Patterson was still there. But he refused to answer the question.
"We want to change the law," he repeated a couple of times, implying that he no longer wanted to "get rid of" the law -- if he ever did.
Patterson also said his proposal would not "require cattle owners to keep their animals fenced," as an August KTAR (92.3 FM) article states.
"My intent would be less fencing," he said.
The proposal's text doesn't make clear if it requires fences for open range cattle, to our simple brain. It looks like Patterson just wants cattle owners to be responsible for the damage their animals do to others' private property, which sounds reasonable.
Yet Aja claims Patterson's proposal would kill Arizona's cattle industry. Once the liability and responsibility for the animals' actions are shifted to the cattle owners, fences would be mandatory, he argues. The cost of that much fencing would be so prohibitive, it would drive ranchers out of business, Aja says.
In any case, Patterson apparently doesn't want to be the poster child for the end of one of Arizona's fabled "Five Cs" -- even though he intends to bring back the proposed law for next year's session.
We also took minor umbrage at how Lacey used this summer's heifer hunt at South Mountain to bolster his thesis that free-range laws were a problem. His story begins:
They have startled the residents of Ahwatukee, a bedroom community in southern Phoenix. They have tramped on lawns and damaged vehicles...
Free-range cattle roam widely across the West...
But the Ahwatukee incident had nothing to do with free-range cattle. In that case, a heifer bought an auction knocked down a corral fence on a two-acre property in south Phoenix and escaped into South Mountain Park.
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We e-mailed Lacey, who took our criticism in stride.
"If I somehow left the impression that Arizona was awash with runaway cows, I regret that," he quipped in an e-mail. "I would talk to you more about this issue but am driving and see a herd up ahead.''
We assume he wasn't driving in Ahwatukee.
Lacey added that the headline on his article was an earlier version, and was later changed to "Uneasy Neighbors on the Open Range."