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Hart Mountain Fence Pull Benefits Wildlife

Volunteers on Hart Mountain fence-pull. Photo by Jefferson Jacobs.
Volunteers on Hart Mountain fence-pull. Photo by Jefferson Jacobs.
July 26, 2012

PLUSH, Ore. - Some hardy volunteers are working in a remote part of southeast Oregon to make life easier for the four-legged residents of the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.

For about two decades, people have been working in the summer months on Hart Mountain to remove a few hundred miles of barbed-wire fence - and this weekend, they think they'll finally be done.

The wires and posts are left over from days when cattle grazed in the area, but refuge manager Jeff Mackay says it's been a hazard to antelope.

"They're here on the summer range, so they need to be able to move off the refuge in winter when our conditions up here are just much too harsh for them. We remove the fences to allow these animals to move freely across the refuge, where they want to, for feed and water."

As nimble as antelope are, they don't jump over fences - they go under them, and sometimes get caught.

Mackay says the fence removal also will help people enjoy the area. Hart Mountain is one of the only wildlife refuges that welcomes overnight camping.

For the volunteers, it's hard work in hot weather - but David Eddleston of Bend says he wouldn't miss it. He's helped with the fence-pulls for several years with the Oregon Natural Desert Association. He says the area reminds him of the Serengeti, the east African desert where he spent time as a child.

"Probably 90 percent of the time that we have been doing the work there, we will see herds of pronghorn. It's a wonderful sight to see them, dashing in front of the vehicles doing 60 miles an hour, maybe 30, 40, 50 of them at a time. It's a wonderful sight."

Mackay says the years of fence-pulling seem to have paid off. This spring's antelope count was the highest since the 1950s - and he says there are a couple of other key reasons for that, as well.

"One, we're having a very dry year, so there's a lot more animals on the refuge because of all the water we have here in our creeks and dugouts and playas. But two, we had a wet spring in 2011, spring and summer, and that produced excellent habitat conditions."

The refuge covers about 280,000 rugged acres. Only about 50 of the 160 miles of roads are suitable for a typical passenger car.

Information about the refuge, including directions and camping rules, is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR