Working for wildlife, one fence at a time

Across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, you’ll see barbed wire fences along the road. These fences make it challenging for wildlife to move because they can get tangled, stuck, and perish on the fence. Luckily, there are some simple changes for these barbed wire fences that will allow for wildlife to safely go over, under, or in between the wires while still containing livestock. Greater Yellowstone Coalition recently had a volunteer day near Ennis, Montana where we made some significant progress in creating a wildlife-friendly fence.

An afternoon storm makes an appearance during the GYC volunteer fencing day. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

An afternoon storm makes an appearance during the GYC volunteer fencing day. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

We met with Steve Primm, an independent contractor with expertise in removing, modifying, and building wildlife-friendly fences, about 20 miles northwest of Yellowstone National Park. The volunteer crew received tools and assignments on a two-mile stretch of fence next to a busy highway used by truckers, outfitters, tourists, and locals. We removed the top wire to allow for wildlife such as elk, deer, and pronghorn to easily jump over the fence without getting tripped up or caught on the barbed wire. The bottom wire was also pulled off and replaced with smooth wire, letting smaller wildlife such as young pronghorn, foxes, and coyotes crawl under the fence without harm.

GYC’s Darcie Warden and independent contractor Steve Primm work a particularly tough fence section. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

GYC’s Darcie Warden and independent contractor Steve Primm work a particularly tough fence section. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

Finally, we rearranged the remaining three barbed wires so that some animals could slip between the wires while reducing their chances of getting tangled and stuck. Steve has encountered wildlife twisted in the barbed wire after they tried to step through the middle of the wires. The barbed wires get caught together, creating a twisted net that the animal has difficulty escaping. He’s been able to rescue a few, but others haven’t been as lucky. The simple change of increasing the distance between the top and second wires can help keep wildlife alive as they journey across Greater Yellowstone.

The crew eats lunch after a long morning of removing barbed wire. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

The crew eats lunch after a long morning of removing barbed wire. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

We love these days in the field with some of the best volunteers around to see how small changes can equal significant results. A day’s work will allow wildlife of all sizes to move more easily on that stretch of land. A huge thank you to everyone that showed up and made a difference for Greater Yellowstone’s wildlife! Keep an eye out for more GYC volunteer opportunities to create wildlife-friendly fences throughout the ecosystem.

-Emmy Reed, Communications Associate