New cattle guards should help deter collisions

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

MANY FARMS, Ariz., Jan. 9, 2012

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(Times photo - Cindy Yurth)

After inspecting a new cattle guard (foreground), Many Farms Chapter Vice President Charlotte Begaye and Grazing Official Roland Tso question Ron Curtis, highway operations manager for the Arizona Department of Transportation's Ganado station (in hard hat).

One of the most dreaded stretches of road on the Navajo Nation for livestock-car collisions is getting some improvements that both chapter and state officials hope will make a difference.

Indeed, a drive on the 14-mile stretch of U.S. 191 between Chinle and Many Farms Wednesday yielded not a single sighting of livestock on the right-of-way - which, if you've ever driven that stretch, is saying something.

Based on pleas from chapter officials, and police reports that substantiated a shockingly high rate of car-livestock collisions in the area, the Arizona Department of Transportation is spending $1.25 million to replace cattle guards that are so clogged with dirt that livestock walk right across them.

Chester Hunt of Show Low Construction, the contractor, said the project is about three-quarters finished, and crews expect to lay the last cattle guard some time next month. The project area is about eight miles in length.

Old cattle guards that are salvageable will be used elsewhere on 191 for ranch entrances that don't yet have a guard.

According to Many Farms Chapter Vice President Charlotte Begaye, the existing cattle guards are 40 to 45 years old, and don't do much to discourage livestock from escaping their pastures and walking into the roadway. The new ones are already making difference, although two horses have become stuck in them.

"This just proves they're used to just walking over the cattle guards," said Roland Tso, Many Farms Chapter grazing official. "Horses tend to learn things the hard way."

Begaye said she's grateful for ADOT's help in dealing with a problem that has been plaguing her chapter for decades, and she also likes the nice, crisp look of the new metal cattle guards (the old ones were cement).

"I think more of our kids will come back home after they go to college if they see we're trying to keep things up," she said. "It's hard for them after living in a city to come back here and everything looking so rundown."

Begaye said she plans to attend Indian Day at the Arizona State Legislature just so she can thank Gov. Jan Brewer and the top ADOT brass in person, and also extended thanks to Omer Bradley at the BIA's Navajo Region office for his support of the chapter's request.

"Sometimes we forget to thank the people who make these things happen," she said.

She encouraged chapter residents to take care of the new cattle guards and surrounding fencing, cleaning them out periodically so they don't clog up and become useless.

Tso said now that the chapter has new cattle guards, it is preparing to enforce the law against allowing your livestock to wander into the roadway.

"With the BIA's help, we bought a gooseneck trailer and some flashing warning lights," Tso said. "We're planning to go in there and pick up any animals we find wandering. We couldn't really do that before, because, with the way the cattle guards were, it wasn't really people's fault if their livestock got out."

Ron Curtis, highway operations manager for ADOT's Ganado station, warned residents that cutting the new fence installed on either side of the cattle guards (as one person has already done), stealing fence posts, or otherwise defacing the expensive new improvements is against the law and ADOT will prosecute.

He encouraged local businesses, churches and other groups to enroll in ADOT's "Adopt-a-Highway" program and patrol the area for trash and vandalism.

Anyone who sees damage to the structures is asked to report it to the Ganado station, 928-755-3579.

Livestock that get stuck in the guards are the owner's responsibility. Anyone who observes a trapped horse, sheep or cow should note the brand or earmark and report it to the local grazing official, who has a list of brands and can track down the owner. Time is of the essence, as a frightened animal can struggle and break its leg, or go into shock and die.

"We'd like to know about it too if that happens," Curtis said.

Begaye noted that livestock don't have much regard for chapter boundaries and urged her counterparts in neighboring chapters to pass resolutions and start lobbying for improvements in their areas.

Curtis said ADOT is already mulling similar projects along Arizona Route 264 and U.S. 160 as funds become available - the two second-worst roads for cow-car collisions on the reservation.

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