{child_flags:featured}FOUR LINE: Sahuarita sees action on bull problem

{child_byline}By Dan Shearer

Sahuarita’s ongoing problem with roaming bulls and wild horses will get extra attention starting Wednesday, the latest attempt to deal with a growing safety issue.

Bulls and wild horses aren’t an uncommon sight around town but the current problem reaches back to at least August, when the area experienced a dry monsoon. The lack of food and water in the usual open-desert grazing spots is just one explanation for why the animals are coming closer into town, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The agency, whose job it is to round up cattle and horses that wander into population centers, set up a pen north of Rancho Resort, west of Interstate 19, last fall, according to spokesman Robert Smook. He said he’s not sure how long it was there but it eventually was damaged by a bull.

“I’m surprised there’s not more livestock or bulls or whatever out there due to the severity of conditions,” Smook said Tuesday. “We’ve got issues all over the state with stray livestock.”

With just eight officers covering Arizona, he said it’s tough to stay on top of, adding, “As long as people don’t put food and water out, that’s a big help.”

Smook said the state will reset the self-closing gate on the pen north of Rancho Resort on Wednesday. One bull was captured and carted off earlier this year from that pen while another was hit with a tranquilizer dart and ran into the desert, he said.

Smook said they are working with the Sahuarita Police Department, which will help monitor the pen. The state Veterinarian’s Office is working on a stronger tranquilizer “that will slow them down but not kill the animals,” Smook said.

As far as other methods of bringing the situation under control:

•Smook said they are considering hiring cowboys to round up the cattle. It isn’t a one- or two-person job.

•There appear to be no brands on the animals, making it difficult to track down owners. “No one’s claiming them,” he said. “If we can identify a brand on an animal, we contact a rancher. This is unique, they’re not branded.”

•Some owners have dumped livestock in the face of rising costs due to the pandemic and drought. “It’s driving a lot of people to get rid of their livestock, sell them,” Smook said.

•Despite no markings, ranchers can’t simply round up wandering cattle and take them to an auction house, Smook said. Stray laws require the Department of Agriculture to be contacted when an animal is captured, setting into motion a seven- to 10-day period where the owner is sought. “There is no incentive there for them to do it,” Smook said of ranchers. “They get nothing for capturing it.” If the animal goes to auction, the state gets the proceeds.

Sahuarita’s concerns

Rarely does a week go by that a stray bull isn’t reported to the Sahuarita Police Department. Officers guide them off the road or out of populated areas but can’t do much more.

Chief John Noland said officers will check the Department of Agriculture trap north of Rancho Resort twice daily after they are set up this week in hopes of getting the animals hauled off.

He acknowledged the animals are a growing safety issue.

One resident in Rancho Resort said several people scattered when a bull invited itself to a park where they were having lunch during the annual Porch Festival on April 24.

Noland said bulls in Rancho Sahuarita, primarily in the north, “might be a bigger issue.”

Several regularly graze in a park near Rancho Sahuarita Boulevard and Vista Larga, the same park where a corral was set up in 2012 to capture wild horses. If the bulls become a danger — they access the interstate, a main roadway or can’t be pushed back to open desert — the department would consider shooting them, Noland said.

That’s what happened in 2012, when a Department of Public Safety officer shot a wild horse after several motorists reported it running back and forth across I-19.

State Rep. Andrea Dalessandro of Sahuarita said she has heard from a constituent about the bulls and is in contact with the Department of Agriculture.

She said Tuesday that she has seen the bulls several times herself and considers them a safety issue. Dalessandro agrees the agency is underfunded and its duties, particularly with recreational marijuana sites coming under its purview, has grown substantially.

State Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon said she will be in touch with the department as well to ensure follow-through.

Rancho Sahuarita said dealing with the bulls has been a long slog.

Community Director Michelle Moreno said they have worked with several agencies, including police, the state and tribal leaders, who said the animals aren’t theirs.

“The state has deployed corrals and has had some success with removing one of the bulls, however a few animals still remain,” Moreno said. “We are in touch with the state regularly and are working with them to find a solution as quickly as possible.”