You are enjoying a quiet breakfast and look out the window to find someone else’s cattle munching on your prized flowers. You can sue the owner of the cattle, right?

It depends.

Montana has “open range” laws that provide in most parts of the state a property owner must put up a fence to keep livestock out; the owner of the livestock does not have an obligation to put up a fence to keep livestock in. Think of open-range laws as requiring “fencing out.”

Not every part of Montana is open range subject to this law. Property within city or town limits is “closed range” where a person must fence livestock in. Some property outside of city or town limits might effectively be closed range due to covenants or homeowners association rules requiring fencing in.

A person building a new home would be well advised to determine if their property is “open range” or “closed range.” If they are in the open range and do not construct a temporary or permanent fence, wandering livestock might decide to leave cow paddies in that new dream kitchen – and the homeowner is on the hook for the repairs.

Federal land is closed range so property owners on federal boundaries must fence in their property to prevent livestock from trespassing onto federal lands.

Railroads must fence off their tracks within the open range. If a train hits livestock on the tracks, the railroad must pay the owner fair market value for the dead or injured livestock.

Where state highways pass through open range, the state has the option to build fences.

The statutes on open range laws are in MCA Title 81, Chapter 4.

Finally, you might think Montana’s open range laws are unique to our state. After all, most of these blog posts tout Montana’s unique laws. Open range laws, however, are in 13 western states.

(This information is of a general nature; exceptions to these general statements might exist. This information is for general educational purposes only; no attorney-client relationship with Overstreet Law Group, LLC is formed unless a person enters into a written representation agreement with the firm.)