by Andrew Graham as published on WyoFile.com

As the snowpack recedes in Wyoming, it reveals the dead.

photo by Andrew Graham/WyoFile

Wildlife can die from a number of causes in winter, from starvation to cold. This photograph of what appears to be an elk calf carcass in the North Platte River Valley captured a man-made mortal threat to wildlife — entanglement in a wire fence meant to control cattle.

Data on how many wild ungulates die when attempting to cross Wyoming fences is difficult to find. A 2006 study from the University of Utah looked at wildlife mortality along 600 miles of fence in Utah and Colorado. Researchers estimated one ungulate gets caught each year for every 2.5 miles of fence.

Mortality rates are increased to one ungulate death for every 1.2 miles of fence by the indirect deaths of fawns found dead next to fences but not entangled. The dead young were likely separated from their mothers when they could not cross the fence, according to researchers.

The majority of ungulates become tangled in the top wires while trying to jump the fence. That may be what happened to this badly tangled animal, but its legs are wrapped into both the top and bottom strands of wire.

A 2015 guide from the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation offers advice to ranchers who want to build more wildlife-friendly fences.


4 replies »

  1. I’ve seen similar tangles happen when an animal snags the top wire and flips over, stretching the top wire as shown and then further tangling in the lower wires, which are pulled upwards as the animal’s weight falls to the ground. This is even more likely if there is unpacked snow hiding some of the lower wires.

    Across a lot of the West (including Wyoming) you can find better fences with dirt packed ramps leading to safe and designated crossing areas that reduce death by wire as well as traffic fatalities.

    Here’s a massive project recently completed in Colorado:


    Simple version in Wyoming:

    These efforts prove human beings can actually address concerns about saving animal (and human) lives through seeking out and funding better ideas when enough people care to make it happen, and state and federal governments come to the table with the best intentions.

    We need this for our wild horses and burros, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How Bad are Fences for Wildlife?

    Remains of Mule deer trapped in fence.

    I’ve seen it dozens of times before and you probably have too. The partial mummified carcass or skeleton of a deer, elk or antelope hanging in a wire fence. But now here is another one and it’s almost in my back yard. This was one of last year’s fawns that came through our neighborhood last Winter.
    This fence is on a small piece of remaining Winter range (a quarter section) at the edge of town that has only survived because of the “economic downturn”

    But is it really good for the deer population if a neglected fence on 160 acres of land kills a single yearling buck? I’m starting to believe the problem may be bigger than we think.

    How Many Miles of Fence?

    This is not an easy question to answer and I doubt anyone knows the answer. After much research, I found that the BLM manages for grazing on 157 million acres in 16 western states on 21,000 allotments (data from BLM website) and the U.S. Forest (USFS) manages 193 million acres on 155 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands of which 96 million acres are considered rangeland. I know for a fact that forested acres are also fenced. If the BLM or USFS know the answer, they don’t make it easy to find. I doubt anyone even knows how many miles of fence exist on State or private lands.
    The average BLM allotment is 7,476 acres. If the USFS allotments are about the same size, that would total 33,841 total allotments for both BLM and USFS. If each allotment was fenced with no cross fencing and each allotment was square, each allotment would have 13.67 miles of fence. Since many allotments would share common fences, if we assume that each allotment shares fencing on three sides with other allotments, at a minimum, there would be over 115,000 miles of fence.

    Raptor, Waterfowl and Grouse Fence Mortality

    Fences don’t kill just ungulates that try to jump over them. The problem extends to birds that fly into them as well.
    I know an avid sage grouse hunter (and falconer) who has been saying for years how many sage grouse he has found dead because of fences. He has spent countless hours on his own time putting vertical wooden slats in fences and wiring beer cans to fences to make them more visible to sage grouse, raptors and other wildlife.

    So for all you guys out there that have ride around on BLM lands and chuck your beer cans out the window, do something good for sage grouse and wire your cans to a fence instead.



    • Wiring beer cans to a fence is not a good idea, they are excellent for target practice and will be shot to bits, scattering aluminum etc. all over creation. Better idea is to use inexpensive visual markers like biodgradeable flagging (or similar, even torn up old bed sheets are good) or stringing high visibility electrical fence wire in high traffic areas. You don’t need to electrify it, the tape/wire is like a white or orange ribbon that vibrates in a breeze, causing a visual disturbance that will deter a lot of animals. Over time these also break down under sun and weather conditions, but it takes many years.

      Best of all is to remove tangled, down, and unused fences altogether. It’s nasty but rewarding work, have done plenty in my time and am always grateful thinking of the animals NOT snagged by miles of rusty old barbed wire and halfway rotted out posts.

      Liked by 1 person

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