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Campaign builds wildlife-friendly fencing

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Sublette County – A Sublette County project will make miles of fenceline more friendly to migrating wildlife in the near future.

“Big game in our area will find more than 280 miles of previously-prohibitive fencing passable as they move between seasonal ranges by the end of 2012,” says the Wyoming Land Trust (WLT) of the Corridor Conservation Campaign (CCC). “That makes a real difference, not only for sustaining our wildlife populations, but for our community, as well.”

Wildlife habitat, part of which involves migration routes, is important to the survival of species and faces a number of threats, says the WLT.

“Wildlife have fragmented habitats,” says Rick Pallister of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on a video detailing the CCC. “They can’t get from one high quality piece of habitat to the next without going through a lot of obstacles.”

The CCC began in 2008 as a five-year program with the goal of building 500 miles of wildlife- and livestock-friendly fencing in Sublette County. These fences are built through key wildlife migration routes through the area.

“We mapped about 110 miles of fences in the first phase of the project, and, of that, 90 percent of the fences had some barrier to wildlife,” says Dave Marshall of KC Harvey, an environmental consulting firm. “We would often find a very low bottom strand. When antelope would try to get underneath, they would struggle.”

Harvey continues, “The fence inventory provided a really clear picture of where the barriers were for wildlife moving and provided a really good planning tool to take to landowners.”

For a fence to be wildlife and livestock friendly, the WLT says, “Fences are generally no more than 42 inches tall, with a smooth bottom wire at least 16 inches off the ground and 10, but preferably 12, inches between the top two wires.”

When the bottom wire is smooth, antelope are allowed to easily travel under the fences without getting caught. Additionally, the space between the top two wires allows wildlife to jump over the fence without their hind legs catching.

The five-year effort was divided into five phases.

Phase one involved modification of about 82 miles of fencing in the historic “Path of the Pronghorn” migration route. The route runs between Grand Teton National Park and Trapper’s Point in Sublette County. Completed in 2009, phase one monitoring efforts use game cameras mounted on the fences to show wildlife passing under and over the fences.

Phase two, which began in 2010, involves the modification of a route nearly 60 miles long for mule deer migrations. Approximately 200 miles of fence will be modified in this area. The Sublette Mule Deer Study, starting in the late 1990s, confirmed the mule deer migration route. At this point, 40 miles of fence have been modified as part of phase two.

The identification of corridors in phases three through five, with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and other partners, will move the project forward in the coming years. Currently, migrations in the Ryegrass and Wyoming Range Front areas and areas along the Green River from Trapper’s Point south are potential targets for the continuation of the project.

“We’ve had to revise some timelines with the economic situation,” says Director of Conservation at WLT Jordan Vana. “Overall, things are going well.”

To monitor the success of the project, the WLT looks at the number of miles of modified fences, images from game cameras positioned on the fence and sharing GIS data on modified fence locations. By sharing GIS data, partner organizations are able to overlay radio-collar information and other data to determine whether corridors are being widely travelled and fences do not provide barriers.

WLT begins each part of the project by first identifying migration routes.

“Migration routes are based on sound science and public recognition and appreciation,” says the organization.

Then, with landowner permission, fences are inventoried and agreements for modifications to fences are reached. The fences are targeted as being functional for the landowners, yet friendly to wildlife needs.

The WLT hires fencing contractors through a competitive bid process. One important aspect of this project is that landowners incur no cost in building wildlife friendly fencing.

Finally, agreements are signed with both the contractors and landowners. Landowners are required to maintain the fence for a specified period of time, usually 20 years, according to the WLT.  

The CCC operates with a number of partners from industry and private corporations to environmental groups. The partners include BP, Bank of Sublette County, Bill Barrett Corporation, EnCana Oil and Gas, USA, Environmental Defense Fund, Good Sportsman Marketing, LLC, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Heart of the Rockies Initiative, James Family Foundation, Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office, Mule Deer Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pinedale Anticline Project Office, Patagonia, Pope and Young Club, QEP Resources, Inc., Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Proactive Fitness and Rehab Center, Shell, Safari Club International, Teton Motors, Inc., WLC Engineering, Western Governors’ Association, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Wyoming Wildlife – The Foundation and private individuals and landowners.

A number of government entities also partner with the project, including the BLM, Bridger-Teton National Forest, UW Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative.

“We need wildlife, and we need wild places. The WLT is working with private landowners, working with the agencies and working with energy companies – taking mitigation dollars, private dollars and some government dollars – and putting it together for something that is fantastic for wildlife,” says Gray Thorton of the Wild Sheep Foundation. “We are protecting areas that need to be protected and ensuring that this corridor is maintained. This is a critical program.”

John Emmerich of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department also comments on the video, “We are actually creating permanent conservation in the sense of maintain these conservation corridors.”

Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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