Fences prove to be deadly obstacles for wildlife
Summit County Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Poet Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but that’s not always the case when our neighbors are wildlife.
According to a new report from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, fences can pose serious threats to wildlife, even in urban and suburban areas. Every year, thousands of big game animals and birds die of injuries caused by fences.
“It’s difficult to imagine neighborhoods, farms, industry and ranches without fences,” writes report author Wendy Hanophy. “They define property, confine pets and livestock, and protect that which is dear to us, joining or separating the public and private. For humans, fences make space into place. For wildlife, fences limit travel and access to critical habitat.”
Fences can be found in a variety of settings in Colorado, from rural mountain areas to urban developments. Much like dams, subdivisions, roads and farms, fences can interrupt the landscape – from an animal’s point of view – and create barriers to seasonal migration and daily activities, like foraging. Fences are especially problematic when they are too high to jump, are too low to crawl under, have loose wires, have closely spaced wires, are difficult for animals to see or create a complete barrier.
“Deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep and pronghorn are all capable of jumping many fences, but smooth or barbed wire can snag animals and tangle legs, especially if wires are loose or spaced too closely together,” Hanophy writes. “If animals can’t pull free, they die a slow and desperate death.”
Too-high fences often separate young from their mothers. An adult female deer may be able to clear a fence, but juveniles can remain trapped on the other side, where they can be killed by predators or die of starvation.
Mammals aren’t the only fence-related casualties. Birds, waterfowl in particular, collide with hard-to-see fences near waterways, causing broken wings, entanglement in wires or impalement by barbs. Low-flying sage grouse frequently lose their lives to wire fences in sage brush habitat.
In urban and suburban areas, wildlife officials have found that animals often get hung up and die on decorative and wrought-iron fences.
Wildlife aren’t the only losers when they get tangled up and killed in fences. Property owners can spend large sums of money to repair or replace fences damaged in wildlife collisions. So making sure a fence is wildlife friendly is worthwhile for animals as well as people.
When erecting a fence, Hanophy recommends first reflecting on its purpose. The material, shape, size and appearance of a fence can vary, depending on whether you’re keeping out wildlife, keeping in pets or livestock, marking a property line or improving esthetics. People new to mountain communities tend to put up fences at property lines, taking away important habitat, food, water or travel corridors, according to Hanophy.
“There are many creative ways to define boundaries, discourage trespass or maintain privacy. A line of trees, shrubs or other vegetation can be used to mark a boundary, screen for privacy, beautify your landscape and provide additional food and cover for wildlife,” Hanophy writes.
The Division of Wildlife encourages property owners to make their fences compatible with the needs of wildlife by ensuring fences are visible, short enough to jump over and far enough above the ground to crawl under. Very long fences, such as those enclosing livestock, can be more wildlife friendly if they feature occasional gaps, short sections with a dropped top rail, or lower height across steep terrain.
In residential areas, Hanophy discourages the use of wooden fences that animals can’t see through, iron or steel fencing and chain-link fencing.
“These fences are especially dangerous to wildlife and can create a complete barrier to animals of all sizes, from turtles to moose. If you must use metal, chain link or plank fences, limit their use to small enclosures,” she writes.
For more detailed information on selecting and building wildlife-friendly fences, view the report, “Fencing with wildlife in mind,” at the Division of Wildlife website: http://www.wildlife.state.co.us/landwater/privatelandprogram/hpp.
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