On a cool, autumn morning, Kelly Bockting looked across the sage-covered landscape at the Palisades Recreation Site and nodded his approval. The fence was finally coming down.
Along a bluff overlooking the Madison River, teams of volunteers and BLM employees were rolling wire into small bales and yanking stubborn posts out of the ground.
Bockting, a wildlife biologist with the Dillon Field Office, explained that sheep once grazed this area 20 miles south of Ennis, but now it is a vital big-game route. The 50-year-old fence crisscrossing the land was a barrier and entanglement hazard; it had to go. “It’s really bad for wildlife movement,” he said.
“This is not just a playground for fisherman and campers, it is also a place where the elk and antelope roam,” Bockting said. “The Palisades provides year-round habitat for antelope and is a migration corridor and winter habitat for elk.”
Now, thanks to a volunteer effort, the deer and the antelope have a little more freedom to play.
On Aug. 27, six volunteers from the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group and Madison River Foundation, 13 BLM employees, and two Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees removed one-and-a-half miles of the old fence.
One month later, 17 BLM employees, six Montana Youth Challenge Academy cadets and seven volunteers from Madison River Foundation went back to finish the project. They hauled away a total of nearly three miles of fence. The Youth Challenge cadets earned community service hours as they wrestled with the old wire, some of which, over time, had embedded firmly into the ground.
As he leaned back to pull out a fencepost, 17-year-old Cameron Cables from Belgrade talked about the importance of the day’s work. “I want to see access to these areas because I like to come down here a lot,” he said. “I want to be a part of everything, especially if it means making it easier for wildlife to move around.”
As she worked with the young volunteers rolling up wire and clearing the land, Dillon’s Assistant Field Manager for Renewable Resources Pat Fosse said, “The Montana Youth Challenge Academy kids worked so hard to do a good job for us today and everyone was very impressed with them. They really deserve a pat on the back.”