JACKSON, Wyo. – After nearly two decades of fence removal projects all around Jackson Hole, volunteers are almost running out of historic barbed-wired fence to take out.
But ranching – and raising and grazing cattle – isn’t going away in western Wyoming. Fences, in some form or another, will always be a part of the landscape. So now the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, the organization leading the fence-pull movement, is moving on to retrofitting fences to make them more wildlife-friendly.
“Now that we’ve removed virtually everything that we can remove, we’ve moved on to modification,” Gregory Giffiths, a fence project organizer, said from the field recently.
Griffiths’ task on a recent Saturday was removing two miles of top barbed-wire and replacing it with heavy-duty wooden poles along a section of in-use fence in Grand Teton National Park’s Elk Ranch area. The new top poles will be less likely to snag the bison, moose, elk, deer and other critters passing by as they migrate and move about.
The project was a collaboration of the wildlife foundation and National Parks Conservation Association. It used $5,000 donated by Nature Valley/General Mills.
Thirty-four volunteers gave up their Saturday for the project.
At Elk Ranch, groups of bison swarmed the area on both sides of the fence, as if to reassure the volunteers that their time was being put toward a worthwhile cause.
The wildlife foundation had already taken a crack at the section of fence volunteers were hard at work on Saturday. To protect pronghorn, which tend to crawl rather than jump, the bottom two strands of barbed wire had been swapped with a single strand of smooth wire last summer.
“This arm’s going to be sore,” said Steve Mason, taking a break from hammering spikes into drill holes bored into the new pole. “But it’s sore from good things.”
Mason, like a good number of the crowd at Elk Ranch, was a seasoned volunteer. He is a good friend of Bob Kopp, president of the wildlife foundation’s board of directors.
“I try not to go to these things, but Bob sucks me in,” Mason joked. “I thought of every excuse I had today, but here I am.”
Folks like Mason are out in the Jackson Hole countryside pulling and modifying fences for projects that aren’t publicized all the time.
So far this year the wildlife foundation has organized seven fence get-togethers – just three were announced to the public.
Victor, Idaho, resident Chuck Taylor was among those at Saturday’s fence pull who were new to the work.
“I think it’s been going pretty good, surprisingly,” Taylor said, ruminating on the beautiful day. “It just doesn’t get any better.”
Working on barbed-wire fences has more personal meaning for some than others. Jackson resident and volunteer Sava Malachowski described the work as invoking a “feeling of liberation.”
“There’s something liberating about removing barbed wire,” Malachowski said. “I’m from Poland, where barbed wire has a completely different meaning.”
The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation is celebrating 20 years this summer.
One of its founders, Lorna Miller, said the organization’s fence program, which kicked off in 1996 with the removal of unwanted fence from private land along Fall Creek Road, has been a great success for wildlife. There’s now been 164 miles of fence removed to date and many more fence-miles modified.
“Permeability is such an important piece of maintaining wildlife in the valley,” Miller said. “It’s such an important issue, and it’s not on many people’s radar screens.”
“If we’re going to walk the talk on being friendly to wildlife, these are the kind of things we need to be working on,” she said.