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OR Volunteers Making Fences More Wildlife-Friendly

PHOTO: Richard Brandt, Portland, secures a new wire on a boundary fence at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southern Oregon. Replacing the bottom line of barbed wire with smooth wire makes the fencing safer for the antelope that migrate through the area. Photo courtesy Oregon Natural Desert Assn.
PHOTO: Richard Brandt, Portland, secures a new wire on a boundary fence at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southern Oregon. Replacing the bottom line of barbed wire with smooth wire makes the fencing safer for the antelope that migrate through the area. Photo courtesy Oregon Natural Desert Assn.
May 12, 2014

LAKEVIEW, Ore. - Good fences may make good neighbors, unless those neighbors are pronghorn antelope. A crew of volunteers is working to make fences more critter-friendly around Oregon's Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.

Pronghorn don't jump over fences, they squeeze under them, so traditional barbed-wire can be lethal. Starting this summer, many miles of boundary fence will be modified on Hart Mountain to keep it from impeding antelope migration while still barring cattle and wild horses from the refuge, to minimize overgrazing.

Jefferson Jacobs, stewardship coordinator, Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), explains how it is done.

"We'll raise the lower wire to 18 inches and put, instead of a barbed wire, a smooth wire. That allows them to kind of slide under the fence easily, without getting cut up and caught up in it," Jacobs says.

ONDA is supplying the volunteers to do the fence modifications, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service covers the materials. A test section of fence was completed in April with good results, and the work begins in earnest this summer.

It's expected to be a multiyear project, partly because the ONDA teams will work a few days at a time and in some of Oregon's most remote country. Fence modification is also labor-intensive, says refuge manager Jeff Mackay.

"If we get 10 miles done a year, that'd be great – or maybe five miles a year. Because not only do we have to put up new wire, but we have to take down the old wire and roll it up, and then string and stretch and fasten new wires," Mackay says. "Once you get everybody trained and you get going, it goes fairly quickly, but it is a process, and it does take some time to do it right."

The fence modifications also come with benefits to sage grouse and raptors in the area. The birds tend to fly into fences, so reflective tags will be added to the fenceline, making the wires easier for them to see.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR