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Eastern Montana/Dakotas District Office
Release Date: 02/01/11
Contacts: Mark Jacobsen 406-233-2831    

Landowners Encouraged to be Mindful of Migrating Wildlife

With deeper snow levels and extreme temperatures, the BLM is encouraging landowners to be mindful of migrating big game and possible conflicts with fencing.

As the animals move with severe weather, their movements can be obstructed by a combination of deep, drifted snow which can render some fence types impassible. Landowners are encouraged to open gates or lay down fencing –wherever possible– so deer, antelope and elk can avoid damaging fences, entanglement or “yarding up” and succumbing to exposure, starvation or stress.

Big game on the move can be stopped and hang-up at these obstacles and if the animals don’t find a way around, the results can be disastrous. This is particularly true of antelope, said BLM Biologist Jesse Hankins in Miles City.

“In extreme winter conditions pronghorn aren’t able to drift ahead of the severe weather to more favorable habitat conditions, especially where woven wire fences are involved,” said Hankins. “Drifting snow can get up to heights where the pronghorn can’t go under the fence; and if the snow drifts to a height tall enough to where they don’t have the natural ability to jump; that’s where you come into big winter mortalities.”

“It’s important to note that in times when you don’t have livestock on either side of the fence to leave those gates open, because more likely than not, they (wildlife) will pace the fence line looking for an opportune place to cross—either at a low spot or a wire that’s hanging or a gate,” said Hankins. “If a gate’s open, that’s where they’re going to cross.”

The seasonal reverse is also true, said Region Seven Supervisor Brad Schmitz of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Deep, crusted snow can allow wildlife to cross fences in the winter, but once the snow is gone it can be a different story.

“Population loss for a region can happen by winter kill or winter time herd migration,” said Schmitz. “Those same fences can be problematic as wildlife try to migrate home again. It’s not such a problem for deer, but it is for antelope.”

This winter’s abundant moisture and low temps have many eastern Montana residents scratching their heads and hunkering down until the spring thaw. It’s no different for the wildlife residents.

“It’s Mother Nature that dictates our wildlife populations out here,” said Schmitz. “She’s the one who determines what happens. She sets the limits, we manage within them.”

Some fences on BLM lands have been identified and modified to incorporate features to aid the year-round movement of big game as part of a multi-year project. Over 30 miles of fencing has been either removed or modified within the last two years. Another 40 miles of existing fence has been identified and scheduled for work.

The fence modifications include standardized wire spacing, removal of extra wires and replacing the bottom barbed wire with smooth wire where appropriate. The BLM is either employing local contractors or contributing funds to willing permittees to remove, modify or replace fences on BLM-administered land that don’t meet the bureau’s wildlife-friendly fence configuration.

The Miles City Field Office uses a fence standard of four wires; three barbed upper wires and one smooth bottom wire –for exterior allotment boundary fences. The top wire is 40 to 42 inches above ground surface with the lower wires placed 30, 22 and 16 inches respectively. If appropriate, internal allotment fences are being constructed of a 3-wire barbed fence. The configuration has been shown to be effective in restricting livestock yet is navigable by deer, antelope and elk.

Depending on the site, circumstances or range management needs, woven-wire fence is either entirely removed or replaced with a new 4-strand fence. Woven-wire is only being removed from BLM land where sheep no longer utilize range on either side of the fence in question.

For more information on wildlife-friendly fence modifications on BLM lands contact BLM Wildlife Biologist Jesse Hankins at (406)233-2800.

For additional ideas on how to design, construct or modify fencing to avoid conflict with wildlife, the booklet entitled “How to Build Fence with Wildlife in Mind” is available from your local FWP office.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Eastern Montana/Dakotas District Office   111 Garryowen Road      Miles City, MT 59301  

Last updated: 08-17-2012