The American west is dissected with millions of miles of barbed wire fence. The human fascination with dividing up ''our property" has impacted wildlife behavior forever. I often refer to coexistence, and preach of the possibilities, but one thing is for sure, we humans are changing the ways the natural world works. What would western states be without fences? We will likely never know. Our innate selfishness will always conquer, as you've heard, 9/10ths of law is possession, and that alone represents the way we operate when it comes to the environment. Born in the west as manifest destiny, we justified our trespass, and the great takeover began. The Wild West would never be the same again, tamed one strand at a time. We were stealing one of our country's fundamental rights from its land and its creatures, freedom. As time passed, we no longer lived in a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope certainly play a lot less. In fact, antelope (American Pronghorn) have a difficult time jumping a fence. This causes great difficulty to an animal that depends on seasonal migrations.
Deer and elk also struggle when it comes to navigating the rusty thorns and barbed wire can become a death trap. This past winter, in just 3 miles of fence line near my home in Montana, 6 elk, 4 deer, and a coyote died a traumatic death entangled in barbed wire. Hanging in the wire from their legs like a snare, they panic and fight to free themselves, usually lacerating themselves and bleeding to death. Others frantically fight until exhaustion, and slowly freeze to death in the night. Nonetheless, it's a brutal way to die. If these potentially fatal obstacles were not enough for deer and elk, their predators have adapted to using the fences to their advantage.
Mountain lions and wolves have been known to use land features such as cliffs and waterways to take away one option in a prey animals escape route. I have found several mountain lion killed deer and it was evident that the cat used the land features in its strategy to make the kill. Now these same predators have modified their hunting tactics and use fences in the same fashion. The fence works as the perfect barricade, making the victim's angles of retreat more predictable, greatly increasing the predator's potential to kill.
Here in the state of Montana, the department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have been progressive in educating landowners about wildlife friendly fences.
Despite the availability of literature and educational material, most landowners still do not practice these fencing procedures. Money should not be a weighing factor in the decision; most of the fencing applications are equal to standard barbed wire or less expensive.
America is still one of the most wild and rugged places on the planet. It is an asset, a gift, and part of what makes this great country exceptional. The United States has always stood for democracy and fairness across the world. Our country has helped millions across the planet liberate themselves and live a life of freedom. Yet, we will not do that very thing for the All-American animals that we share this wonderful place with. We as humans have the ability to adapt and change better than any other species on earth. We can coexist with the wildlife we love. It's time to change and adopt wildlife friendly fences as a common practice and live up to our true American essence, and let freedom ring.
Photos courtesy of Rick Smith