U.S. Forest Service removes Wild West barbed wire to open more range for wildlife
U.S. Forest Service officials drove along the twisted mountainside road above a scenic valley to the top of Ute Pass where the White River and Arapaho-Roosevelt national forests meet.
The group of 17 forest workers from the Dillon and the Sulphur ranger districts tromped through the landscape, yanking, twisting and bending rusted barbed-wire fence from the ground. They removed almost a mile of corroded wire and dozens of metal stakes. At times, the work resembled a wrestling match with the sharp rusted metal material.
“It’s a tough job, but it comes off the landscape fairly quickly, and you instantly have better habitat,” said Dillon Ranger District wildlife biologist Ashley Nettles.
With every mile of fencing removed, about 160 acres of wildlife habitat is opened, she said.
Earlier this summer, Sam McCalip, a student conservation association intern with the Dillon Ranger District, went on a mission to survey the miles of abandoned, dilapidated cattle fencing on Forest Service land, and found the skulls and bones of elk and deer who died after becoming ensnared in the material.
Forest Service workers said every year, local wildlife suffer needlessly from unnecessary fencing, either by becoming entangled in the material, or through injuries that make them more vulnerable to disease and predators. Deteriorated fencing is especially dangerous for wildlife, officials said.
“As the fences get older the wires pop, corrode and become brittle, and trees can knock down some of the posts. Everything becomes bent and loose, and it’s easier for wildlife to become entangled when they jump and try to get over the fence,” said Doreen Sumerlin, wildlife biologist with the Sulphur Ranger District.
Employees from the Sulphur Ranger District teamed up with their Dillon counterparts on the fence removal project earlier this week.
“The wildlife that live here don’t know about the boundaries of our ranger districts in national forests, so when we have projects that benefit wildlife in both units it’s great to work together,” Sumerlin said.
Dillon Ranger District biologist Nettles said it’s time residents start viewing fencing in a different light.
“It’s not the Wild West anymore. We can delineate our property lines in more wildlife-friendly ways than this, by just having property markers. Or if you have to have fencing, there are more wildlife friendly options without barbed wires,” she said.
The Dillon Ranger District has a brochure that outlines fencing options. Spacing is important because some animals, such as antelope, prefer to go under a fence rather than over, biologists said. Visibility is also important, especially for fencing located near roads.
“Sometimes animals are panicky because they are trying to get off the road and they hit fences in a dangerous fashion,” Sumerlin said.
Although biologists were able to remove most of the dilapidated cattle fencing at the top of Ute Pass, about a half mile of the fencing on the north side of the road remains to be pulled, Nettles said. She is working with other wildlife biologists to create a database of areas where fencing needs to be pulled, and is planning additional removal projects for next season.
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