Fences hamper Wyoming wildlife migration

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2008

GREEN RIVER, Wyo. - Wyoming's Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering money to help agricultural producers statewide retrofit fences so wildlife can move around easier.

Under the initiative, the NRCS will pay for 75 percent of the typical cost of retrofitting fences in wildlife corridors.

Cheryl Grapes, NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program specialist, said the program has been offered exclusively to Sublette County producers in western Wyoming for several years, but to date has received and funded only one request for wildlife-friendly fencing.

"We haven't had a lot of people signing up for it, but maybe we haven't promoted the program strong enough ... and that's what we're trying to do now," Grapes said. "We want to get the word out and let producers know that it's available."

She said NRCS officials recently decided to expand the program statewide and boost the incentive from 50 percent to 75 percent of the cost.

"We've found that the interest has been a little broader. ...There are other corridors like in Carbon County, and we've had some interested landowners down there," Grapes said.

"We realized that it would be a really good thing to try and offer more opportunities through the program to assist all the private landowners," she said. "There's more environmental benefits and benefits to the public ... for doing migration corridor fence replacement, so we bumped up (the funding) as well."

Retrofitting fences to make them wildlife-friendly gives landowners the opportunity to facilitate big game migration, avoid wildlife deaths, and prevent yearly damage to the fences themselves, she said.

"(The funding) is another resources for the rancher to use ... they're the folks that are raising the wildlife for us, so to speak," Grapes said.

Twice a year, more than a million deer, antelope, elk and moose in Wyoming move to and from winter ranges, sometimes following migration routes and paths thousands of years old.

However, the treks are getting a little harder for big game animals, particularly in western Wyoming where they have to traverse through more residential development, more traffic on highways, more energy development and more fences.

Wildlife biologists say the best wildlife-friendly fences are designed to be easily seen on approach by wildlife, and can be easily leaped over or crawled under without injury to the migrating animals.

Grapes said service specialists will help participating landowners tailor the fence renovation to the type of wildlife species that migrates through the property. Generally accepted wildlife-friendly fence standards are then applied on a site-specific basis.

"Say a rancher has antelope (migrating) across his property," Grapes said. "They typically pass under fences, so a landowner would be looking at a smooth-bottomed wire, at least 16 inches or higher above the ground."

Grapes said her agency is working closely with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Green River Valley Trust and other natural resources partners on the fencing initiative.

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