Breaking Boundaries for Wildlife

Removing barriers to wildlife movement in the Centennial Valley

In 2007, the Conservancy began an effort to map and categorize fences in the Centennial Valley. The goal of the project was to help make the Centennial Valley more “wildlife friendly” by either modifying or removing fences that created the most significant barriers to wildlife movement. We started by mapping fences on our preserve and lands we managed, then moved to nearby lands where landowners were willing to participate.  We also measured just how friendly or unfriendly each fence design was for wildlife such as the number of wires, whether it was barbed wire, smooth wire, or, worst of all, woven sheep wire.  Pronghorn especially have difficulty jumping, and are often either stopped or tangled up in fences that they cannot pass beneath. Other wildlife, like elk, moose, and bear, go over fences and often young animals are injured or trapped if the top wire is too high. So crews measured the distance between the ground and bottom wire, and also the height of the top wire and type of fence material and design.  Our initial inventory revealed that many of the fences are difficult for wildlife to pass through and pose a challenge to wildlife that must migrate long distances.

Between 2007 and 2014, with permission and input from participating landowners and wildlife biologists, the Conservancy and volunteers from the Centennial Valley Association, Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Ecology Project International, and Montana Conservation Corps began the hard work of implementing solutions, such as raising the lowest strand of wire, replacing barbed wire with smooth wire, and removing old sheep fencing.  In cases where there were simply too many miles of fence to remove or modify, we selected key segments that were the most likely to receive highest levels of wildlife traffic.


Before:

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Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Julie McLaughlin)

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Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Julie McLaughlin)


After:

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Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Julie McLaughlin)


 As of today, crews have modified, replaced, or removed over 50 miles of fence in the Centennial Valley.   The removal of hundreds of miles of wire created a barn-sized pile of scrap metal, larger than any TNC vehicles were capable of hauling out of the remote valley. In 2016 as a result of their partnership with TNC, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge staff offered to haul the scrap metal to a yard in Idaho Falls. Using an excavator and dump truck, the scrap was finally cleared away in November 2016. Although the barbed wire pile was a striking image of collaboration benefiting wildlife, it was also an eyesore capable of puncturing tires. From now on we will have to tell our story using photographs!

Though there are many more miles of fence to address to ensure safe passage for wildlife – this hard work has vastly improved the permeability of the Centennial to broad ranging wildlife such as Pronghorn, elk, mule deer and moose.

Learn more about other projects in Montana's sagebrush grasslands.

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