Open Grazing in Rio Verde

OK, I am as much of an animal lover as the next guy. I enjoy walks in the desert with my dogs and am always on the lookout for Coyotes and Javelinas but they usually see me before I see them. I have spotted hawks, rattle snakes, owls, tarantulas and even a bobcat. I love living in the Sonoran Desert and enjoy the lifestyle of the country and the flavor of the Southwest.

We have only rarely, if at all, seen recreational horseback riders when we do it only adds to the rustic flavor of the neighborhood.

Periodically however my house is visited by some non-wild life that I am starting to take exception to. We have someone that is grazing their horses and cattle in our area, on and off, for the last few years. When I have my nieces and nephews visiting they are enthralled by the fact that I have horses just walking around my neighborhood. That magical wonder ended on my part however when I found my first young tree stripped bare.

Many of my neighbors have observed the same thing but they just shrug it off to living in Rio Verde. One went so far as to say “Well, the horses have to eat too”.

Should open grazing rights be revoked in Rio Verde Foothills?

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That got me thinking. Since the owner is bringing them here to feed and he is obviously profiting off of that then I am in a sense subsidizing his business with my landscaping budget. Now it is my understanding that Maricopa County has had open grazing policy in Rio Verde for, well, so long now that it doesn’t matter. I did find some documentation on their web site that said they were phasing open grazing out in Rio Verde but it was unclear as to the time frame or how that was going to be implemented.

Here is an excerpt from a 2005 County publication called “RIO VERDE FOOTHILLS AREA PLAN“.

The open range situation is noted as a significant hazard on Rio Verde Drive. In 2005, the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office determined that the Rio Verde Foothills area no longer meets the qualification criteria as “open range” grazing area. A “high density” grazing policy will be phased in to take the place of open grazing, requiring property owners to fence the boundaries of their property to confine livestock to their property.


A more recent County document titled “Maricopa County Zoning Ordinance” dated July-2009 has a section 1304. “EXEMPTED USES” which seems to apply to the situation as well.

This Ordinance shall not prevent, restrict or otherwise regulate the use or occupation of land or improvements for railroad, mining, metallurgical, grazing or general agricultural purposes, if the tract/s concerned is/are five or more contiguous commercial acres in size (Note: One Commercial acre = 35,000 square feet).

The following section on the web site seems to be the main index for everything concerning Rio Verde : Rio Verde Foothills Area Plan

I had an incident where a young horse went down in my yard and would not get up. After several calls to the County, the Sheriffs Department I was passed off to equine rescue who was familiar with the owners of the horses. After giving her the details and getting things in motion to see about the horse (which turned out to be fine by the way), I asked about the policy of open grazing in Rio Verde. She said that it was banned on the North side of Dynamite due to a driver fatality but was still allowed on the South side of Dynamite as the horse came from the North side. That seems ridiculous to me since a horse is just as likely to get through a break in the fence on the South side as it is on the North side. That is like saying we are only going to put a speed limit in front of the schools where a child has been killed.

Horse Down

Anyway, I know there are a lot of horse lovers out there (I am one of them) but there has to be a better way to handle this open grazing situation than have me subsidize cattle and horse feed with my landscaping budget. It seems it would be more cost effective for me just to write a check to the livestock owner not to graze his animals…