From the BLM
Fences on Eastern Montana BLM-administered public lands are being modified to incorporate features that will aid the year-round movement of local wildlife, especially big game.
Over 20 miles of fencing has been either removed or modified to date. Over 30 miles of existing fence has been identified and scheduled for modification or removal over the next two years.
Modifications will include standardized wire spacing, removal of extra wires and replacing barbed wire with smooth wire where appropriate. The BLM is either employing local contractors or contributing funds to willing permittees to remove, modify or replace fences that don’t meet the bureau’s wildlife-friendly fence configuration.
The project is intended to aid the year-round movement of wildlife and to reduce injury or death resulting from collisions or entanglement.
The Miles City Field Office is using a fence standard of four wires; three barbed upper wires and one smooth bottom wire. The top wire is 40 to 42 inches above ground surface with the lower wires placed 30, 22 and 16 inches respectively. The configuration has been shown to be an effective in restricting livestock yet crossable by deer, antelope and elk.
Depending on the site, circumstances or range management needs, woven-wire fence is either entirely removed or replaced with new 4-strand fence. The woven-wire is only being removed from BLM land where sheep no longer utilize range on either side of the fence in question.
Removing woven-wire, however, does not indicate a BLM bias against sheep, said BLM Biologist Jesse Hankins, one of the staff members supervising the fence modifications.
“By no means are we trying to remove the sheep producer from the landscape,” said Hankins.
The fence removal or modification agreements are between the BLM and willing permittees, he said.
“At the end of the day it’s a win-win situation for the producer; a new four-wire fence, and it’s a win-win for the wildlife too,” said Hankins. “In all situations we’ve had cooperation from all the permittees and they’ve all signed cooperative range agreements essentially buying in to the idea.”
Hankins said the positive reception has been encouraging and cited an instance where a Carter County landowner contributed $2,500 for a BLM contractor to replace woven-wire on his deeded land with the BLM wildlife-friendly four-wire standard.
Regardless of fence type, a well-maintained fence poses less of a hazard, said Hankins.
“A tight 4 wire fence makes for good neighbors and fewer wildlife mortalities; a tight fence makes a more wildlife-friendly fence than a loose fence; it doesn’t matter if it’s new or old,” he said.
According to a Utah State University study cited by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, statistics were compiled from a study that monitored over 600 miles of rangeland fence in Colorado and Utah.
The researchers reported an average of one ungulate (deer, elk or antelope) per year was found tangled for every 2.5 miles of fence. The study stated that most animal fatalities occurred when the animals jumped or attempted to jump the fence and were caught in the top two wires.
In the study area, woven-wire fences topped with a single strand of barbed-wire were considered the most lethal type of fence, as they tended to snare and tangle legs between the barbed top wire and the rigid woven-wire.
Juveniles were considered eight times more likely to die in fences than adults with fatalities peaking in August during the weaning period.
For more information on wildlife-friendly fence modifications on BLM lands contact BLM Wildlife Biologist Jesse Hankins at (406)233-2800.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks also carries a booklet entitled “How to Build Fence with Wildlife in Mind” available at your local FWP office.
Published June 9, 2010