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Fencing & finger pointing: Cattle controversy invades Tucson neighborhood

Kevin Keen

A Sycamore Park neighbor snapped this picture of the herd chilling out on the community baseball diamond. (Courtesy Davey/Sycamore Park Community Association)

Fencing & finger pointing: Cattle controversy invades Tucson neighborhood

CREATED May. 21, 2013
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Sycamore Park’s normally a pleasant, pretty peaceful place, but the Tucson neighborhood is the site of an invasion. Stick around long enough and you’ll see, hear and smell them. They’re cows -- caught up in a controversy of fence cutting, finger pointing and frustrated neighbors. 9 On Your Side investigates the bovine bind.
At first, many people in the southeast side neighborhood were amused to see a herd of cattle strolling down their streets and munching on their baseball field.
“They come over here in the grass and just hang out,” one teen said.
On several occasions, neighbors have captured the cattle on home camcorders and surveillance cameras.
The herd's shown up off and on for more than a year now and it’s clear its members keep coming back for the green grass.
How the heck do they get in here? Sycamore Park -- south of I-10 off South Kolb Road -- is surrounded by state trust grazing land on all but one side.
There's a barbed wire fence, but someone or some people cut it and that allows the herd to enter.
To identify the culprit, the homeowners association set up a camera, which caught cars, trucks, ATVs and people going over downed and damaged fencing to get to the state trust land.
The cows get in and leave something special behind.
“It's nasty!” one girl in the neighborhood said.
“They poop everywhere!” said fellow neighbor Robert Seitz. “When we play football, no one wants to step in that or get tackled in to it.”
“It does fertilize the grass, but it's pretty gross,” added Tori Vieira.
The Tucson Police Department is working to catch and stop the fence cutters.
In the meantime, there’s a dispute over who owns -- and therefore should pay to fix -- the fencing.
The homeowner’s association argued it’s not responsible and that the area around the neighborhood is not “open range” land because it’s within city limits.
“Tucson has an ordinance that says: no cattle in the city limits of Tucson," said attorney Jonathan Olcott, representing the Sycamore Park Community Association. “You can't just have a cattle drive down Congress!”
Olcott is also concerned about the damage the cows cause to landscaping and property.
The owner of the herd, rancher Mick Claves, also argued he’s not responsible for the fencing.
“It’s not my job,” Claves told KGUN9. “I’m a rancher.”
He argued the land his cows graze on -- which he leases from the State Land Trust -- is, in fact, open range so the responsibility of maintaining the fence lies with the neighborhood.
“My cows. Their fence. That’s how Arizona works,” Claves said over the phone, declining to be part of an on-camera interview.
With neither side taking ownership nor wanting to pay for future repairs, a number of agencies are working on pinpointing responsibility. They include the State Land Trust, Department of Agriculture, City of Tucson, Tucson Police Department and others.
While the fingers are pointing, the cows keep coming back.
HOA president Catherine Cook said she sometimes has to shoo them away by rounding them up herself.
“I’ll just, in a very deep voice, yell at them to move,” she said, laughing. “I'm not mean to them. They move.”
Eventually, Claves arrives and rounds them up.
With no permanent cattle containment in sight, police are concerned for the safety of children in the neighborhood. While officers search for the culprits and identify the owner of the fence, TPD and the Department of Agriculture have come up with a plan.
After neighbors notice cows on the wrong side of the fence, according to the plan, they’ll call police.
“We have agreed to help with a round up if the livestock owner does not respond to calls in a timely manner,” a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman wrote to KGUN9. “Under state law, the Department of Agriculture can impound stray animals until their owner can be notified. When we find stray animals they are impounded in private lots; the owner must pay all fees before retrieving the livestock. We’d be working with other ranchers in the area to help with the round up.”
State and local government officials all reported this problem is happening more and more across Arizona as cities grow into the countryside.
To get to the bottom of Sycamore Park’s ongoing problem, Tucson police ask anyone who sees or knows anything about the fence cutters to call 911.
Photographer: Chris Miracle