Payson Gardeners Live With The Wild Things

Plea for an electric fence ordinance provokes strange tale of mystery raiders, sizzling piglets and lost battles

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A bad mother. An epic elk.

A sizzling pig. A devastated garden.

And an electric fence ordinance.

All these wild things came into play before the Payson Town Council, as residents and council members revealed their own private flashbacks in a mostly losing war with wildlife — tales of the Rim Country just strange enough to be true.

The discussion started reasonably enough with a plea from several devoted Payson gardeners for permission to put up electric fences to protect their juicy tidbits from elk, deer, javelina — even raccoons.

Bob Hartley observed, “I have a garden. The fence around my garden keeps out the javelina. The high wire has so far kept out the elk. And the chicken wire keeps out the skunks and rabbits.”

Only the occasional flying squirrel had breasted the barricade.

Until this summer.

“Someone ate the whole garden,” he said. “Asian lily, zinnias, hollyhock, gay feathers, golden rod,” he said mournfully, reading reading the honor roll of the fallen. “I suspect it was a family of raccoons.”

This will not stand.

He wants an electric fence.

“It’s not 100 percent sure,” he said. “But it’s the best way I know of to keep them out.”

Another resident came forward to second the idea.

“I know we’re living in their territory, but this fall after the frost, they came along and killed everything I had left. I invested $100 and an awful lot of work and now I’ve got zilch.”

The council, clearly, felt their pain — especially council members with an acre in the woods.

“I use the 110 (volt fence) on the javelina,” said Vice Mayor Mike Vogel, a veteran hunter with a clear grasp on the distinction between wildlife and pets.

Javelina, by the way, are peccary — not pigs or rodents.

Now Mayor Kenny Evans weighed in. Once a farmer in Yuma growing some 50,000 acres worth of fruits and vegetables, he met his match when he encountered Payson wildlife. He told the story of an “anonymous” public official’s close encounters of the wildlife kind.

“He grew potatoes, tomatoes, corn — all the things he’d grown in his former life. But he discovered wildlife in the Payson area was very different — and this anonymous public official also didn’t know that in Payson, electric fences were illegal,” said Evans, speaking discreetly in the third person.

So when the elk and javelina laid waste to his garden, he put up a 440-volt fence.

“The beasts thought this was very funny,” said Evans.

“They walked through it like it wasn’t there.”

So he put up a 900-volt fence.

“The elk seemed to enjoy it. He’d rub up against it — ahhh,” said Evans, offering a credible impression of an elk, happily atingle.

“So this anonymous official went to his ranch in Eastern Arizona” and brought back the biggest, meanest fence he could find.

Some javelina came by to investigate.

They studied the situation through their beady eyes — snouts a sniffling. Then they hit upon a solution.

“The sows would push their little piglet into the fence – zzzztz –zzztz,” said Evans, with a little shudder that sparked frissons of laughter in the audience.

“They would sizzle until they shorted out the fence and then they went in and ate their fill.”

Everyone absorbed that little tale of maternal tenderness.

Then Councilor Ed Blair proposed an motion to direct the planning staff to investigate the details of a possible electric fence ordinance.

“I’ll second that,” said Vogel. “I just want to see this 900-volt fence.”

Envy clearly had reared its ugly head.

Councilor Su Connell turned to Evans and said, “when you see this anonymous public official, ask him how his garden grows now.”

“You’d have to ask the wildlife,” Evans said ruefully.

Later — after the meeting — Evans recounted an even more extravagant story about a 1,000-pound elk, three cherry trees, four fences and a rolled up ball of metal plating and mesh left in the driveway with the last cherry tree enclosed.

But that’s a tale for another time.

In public, Evans joined in the unanimous council vote asking for the report on an electric fence ordinance.

Then he turned to his fellow Payson gardeners and wished them luck — fence or no fence.

In Payson, everything from apricots to zinnias belongs to the wild things.

“But if you want some fried little piglets, I may be able to find you some,” he deadpanned.

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