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Research taps ranchers' fencing experience to reduce wildlife conflicts

Meadow and fenced
Pedro Salaverrìa/pedrosala - stock.adobe.com
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pedrosala / Adobe Stock
A fenced-in pasture in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.

News brief: 

As the old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors. And that’s especially true in the Mountain West, where ranchers often need to protect livestock from carnivores.

Now, researchers are trying to glean fencing best practices and strategies to create a policy blueprint for landowners and decision-makers in the region.

A study out of Utah State University tapped the expertise of ranchers to see which barriers work and which don’t. Depending on the location, growing season and habitat, certain materials and layouts could be cheaper and more effective than alternatives. In some cases, electric or barbed wire might work, while in others, mesh or wood is sufficient.

USU wildlife biologist Julie Young, who leads the USDA's Predator Ecology and Behavior Project in Utah, says it’s in people’s best interest to get their strategy right the first time because maintaining fences is time-consuming and expensive.

“So if we can better know which fence will work where then people aren't wasting time trying three different designs,” she said.

Young’s goal is to create a toolkit that landowners, policymakers and the public can reference when creating fencing strategies. In turn, she hopes her research will support migration routes, carnivore management and local economic interests.

“They can just put the fence or the physical barrier out there that will work best in their scenario, their location and their predators and use it in a way that reduces livestock depredation and increases coexistence,” she said.

Livestock deaths have been in the news this summer. Several grizzlies have been relocated or euthanized in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming this year after killing sheep and cattle. Wildlife officials in Colorado are also investigating whether a wolf pack may have killed at least 18 calves earlier this month.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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