In many areas where animal migrations can be large, seasonal and visible, as on the prairies and plains of Wyoming, Utah and Montana, wildlife-friendly fencing is a necessity, an art, and a science.
Many species of wildlife undergo seasonal movements to seek food, water or breeding habitat, and their migrations make for great Discovery Channel viewing. Ski slopes are shut down to make way for migrating elk.
On the other hand, wildlife in wooded suburban tracts in the Northeast such as we have in the Philadelphia area make mini-migrations on a daily basis on established trails for the same purpose, without much attention being paid, because these smaller patterns of natural and instinctive behavior are not as visible or press-worthy until the animals are struck by cars, or become impaled on, wedged into, or entangled in fencing.
One such event, occurred in my neighborhood last fall, and involved the struggle, suffering and death of a white-tailed doe entrapped by a fence too tall to leap over and uprights spaced too close for her to get her hindquarters through.
I warn you, my photograph is an unsettling sight. The fence that killed her (see photo on right) is similar to many seen in photographs of suburban wildlife deaths yet continues to be used, sometimes in blatant disregard of local ordinances, the penalty for which is paid by wildlife simply following ancient herd movements necessary to their survival.
We are the interlopers, not they.
Fences are, however, often necessary, and the wholesale banning of fencing would create another set of problems, but we can work to reduce the cost to wildlife if we take an example from our western counterparts and design fences in such a way as to permit the life of the land to continue.
These safeguards are especially needed in areas with known high wildlife traffic as near stream corridors such as Manor Creek. which borders one perimeter of my property.
Animals typically have difficulty negotiating fences that have close spacing between uprights, are too high to jump over, to low to crawl under, or otherwise create an impenetrable barrier. Close spacing between verticals increases the risk of wing or leg entanglement such as occurred with the doe I photographed. At the very least, the death sentence of a barrier fence can be relieved by allowing periodic openings for the movement of wildlife.
We must begin somewhere to balance the needs and demands of both human and wild populations, enforce whatever local fence ordinances are currently on the books, and spare animals the agony and death caused by entanglement in illegal fences.
While the best fence for wildlife is no fence at all, fences are a necessity in many cases. Depending on the community, fences must contain or exclude livestock, protect crops, beehives, gardens, play yards, dog runs and other property. In some cases however there are good alternatives to fences.
There are many creative ways to define boundaries, discourage trespass, or maintain privacy. A line of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation can be used to mark a boundary, screen for privacy, beautify your landscape, and provide additional food and cover for wildlife.
The areas that wildlife choose as travel corridors are often the same places that you would want to preserve in a natural state to retain the scenic amenities and aesthetic value of your property. You could also consider marking property boundaries with signs, flexible fiberglass or plastic boundary posts spaced at intervals without crosswires. If you only fence the portions of your property that you need to protect, you’ll be saving time, money and wildlife.
Posts can be spaced closely together or farther apart and connected with chain, cable or rail. Bollards can be made of wood, concrete, brick, stone, cast iron, aluminum or steel.
A row of evenly space boulders serves the same function.
The eastern fixation on pruned lawns and decorative details means that many of the western fence solutions might be too functional in appearance for some sensibilities, but all this means is that there’s an opportunity for someone to come up with and market a well-designed, competitvely priced wildlife friendly fence solution.
Because the argument for living in synchronicity with the environment is so compelling, my city fathers are still unsure as to how it was that they permitted me to establish a full-throttle meadow where a sweeping front lawn, and sometimes fence, is normally established. Gosh but it’s pretty.
Rather than keep wildlife out, I choose to invite wildlife in. And so the deer visit now and then in twos and threes, have a couple of nips at my native plants, and then move on along their faint, unobstructed ancestral paths.
Portions of the descriptions of fencing solutions were taken from “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind” by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
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