Fence begins with Path of the Pronghorn
Pinedale – “Our goal in this project was to modify fences found in migration corridors in a way that makes them workable for landowners, especially those in the ranching community with livestock, and passable for wildlife,” explains Wyoming Land Trust Director of Conservation Jordan Vana of the Corridor Conservation Campaign project in Sublette County.
“The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation held a meeting in Pinedale, where they said they could probably bring some significant money into Sublette County to help folks interested in modifying fences to make them passable for wildlife but still workable for the landowner.
“We volunteered to take the idea on, even though we are primarily involved in developing, buying and selling conservation easements. We believed in the project, felt it fit our broad motto, and already had a good relationship with many of the landowners located on migration routes. Due to being a non-profit, private organization we felt we might be in a better position to partner with a number of state and federal agencies without as much bureaucracy involved,” explains Vana.
After meeting with their board, the Wyoming Land Trust developed their Corridor Conservation Campaign. “It is a five-year effort to make 500 miles of existing fence in Sublette County workable for landowners and passable for wildlife at no cost to the landowner, and is split into five phases,” says Vana.
Phase One was the Path of the Pronghorn migration route, completed in late 2009.
“We began by visiting with a number of people, and some would say the animals have been making it through those fences for decades, and they didn’t think it was a problem that needed time or money invested into it. Then other people would say it was absolutely an issue, and the fences caused animals to bunch up and created stress. We decided to inventory all fences on the migration route and determine the scope of the issue before we spent time and money to solve it,” says Vana.
To do that, the land trust overlaid maps of the migration route determined through GIS data and maps showing land ownership and fence lines. Landowners with fences on the route were contacted by phone or sent a postcard explaining what the Wyoming Land Trust was, and what the Corridor Conservation Campaign hoped to accomplish.
“We explained that it would be at no cost to the producer and we would like permission, if the landowner was interested, to inventory their fences and see what condition they were in, how many wires they had and where gates were located. Most of the landowners said that would fine, and we inventoried a total of 107 miles of fence,” says Vana.
Then the Land Trust met with their staff, ranchers and state and federal wildlife experts to determine the best modifications for each fence. Meetings followed with each individual landowner to explain the modifications and reach an agreement.
“After speaking with all of the landowners, we let out a contract for the actual fence work and a company called Entercrest got phase one of the fencing contract. They modified a total of 82 miles of fence on the Path of the Pronghorn migration route in 2009,” says Vana. “We also entered into MOUs with each landowner, stating the Wyoming Land Trust would pay Entercrest, who would modify fences pursuant to what the landowner and the Trust agreed to. The landowner then agreed to maintain the fence in its modified condition for 15 or 20 years, depending on the contract.”
Fences were modified using Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) standards, which say the fence should be no more than 42 inches tall, with a smooth bottom wire at least 16 inches off the ground. There must be at least 10 inches, and preferably 12, between the top two wires, and the third wire is evenly spaced between the second and bottom wire.
“We typically replaced the bottom wire with smooth wire, and reused the other three wires as often as possible,” explains Vana. “We provided landowners the option of steel or wood posts. We reused steel posts as often as possible, and on wood fences replaced any rotted or otherwise unusable wood posts. I told the fencing crew I wanted them to be able to look back when they were done and see a fence they would be proud to have on their place. It didn’t need to look brand new, since we were reusing as much material as possible, but we wanted it to look nice and straight and be in good overall shape.”
“It is a very common-sense project that allows folks to keep livestock in or out, and also saves them a little money to invest back in their operation or use to send a kid to college. It’s always a success when the ranching and wildlife communities benefit from a project,” notes Vana.
He adds that wildlife friendly fence doesn’t work in all situations, and that’s fine. Some producers left calving lots and other areas in mesh or other forms of fence, and there hasn’t been anything developed that works effectively at keeping sheep in while allowing wildlife to pass through.
Phase Two of the project began in 2010 and involves mule deer migrating from around the Hoeback Rim, down along the Wind Rivers to the Big Sandy area.
“That migration route was confirmed by a study that was part of the development of the Pinedale Anticline Gas Field. Work on Phase Two will continue into next year.
“Phase Three will probably focus on wildlife on the Wyoming Range in the western part of the county. Then we may do some work down along the Middle Green between Trappers Point and Highway 189,” explains Vana of the remainder of the project.
He adds a number of partners were integral in the completion of Phase One, and the continued success of the project. “It isn’t often you see the combination of partners we have on this project together, and we are really excited to see that,” says Vana.