Published in East Idaho News on July 10, 2021
ISLAND PARK – John Poloski said he doesn’t want to see any more deer die after becoming entangled in barbed wire fence. Rick Sitts said obsolete fences are significant barriers to migrating pronghorn, deer, elk and bighorn sheep, all of which he has seen moving through this area. Poloski has seen moose struggling to cross a nearby fence in winter.
On Wednesday, July 7, 30 volunteers from age 11 to 89 helped remove a section of obsolete fence on private property in northern Island Park. The property owner had asked for their help and expressed gratitude for their work. Every volunteer wanted to help wildlife survive and thrive in Island Park and the Upper Henrys Fork. Two days after the project was completed, three mountain goats were observed moving across the area where the fence had been a barrier.
The volunteers came together at the invitation of Henrys Fork Wildlife Alliance which partnered with the National Parks Conservation Association to organize the project. Kelsie Huyser, Project Manager for the Yellowstone Pronghorn Project of NPCA said the removal of the derelict barbed wire fence would improve wildlife movement west of Yellowstone National Park over Raynolds Pass between Madison Valley, Montana, and Henry’s Lake, Idaho.
Volunteers were provided with gloves and fencing tools. They used fencing pliers, bolt cutters, and post pullers, pulling wire off metal and wood fence posts and out of the ground. They removed metal and wood fence posts wherever feasible. At times it was a struggle to disentangle wire and fence posts from waist-high sagebrush or where wire and metal were buried deep in the ground. Generally, the work crew cleaned up this piece of the landscape from human obstacles to animal movement.
“It was a great day of hard work that improved the area for wildlife migration. What could be better than that?” Volunteer Becky Hall said.
Huyser explained that pronghorn were once abundant across Yellowstone National Park, but by 2004 park biologists estimated that fewer than 300 animals remained in the northern park herd. Habitat fragmentation and fences adjacent to the park had impaired the ability of the herd to follow their historic migration routes north and west of the park.
Huyser says pronghorn are not built to jump and have difficulty negotiating fences. NPCA has been working through a collaborative community engagement program since 2004 to restore pronghorn migration corridors around Greater Yellowstone. They work with private landowners and public land managers to remove or modify fences to make them wildlife-friendly. This work also benefits deer, elk and moose.
Jean Bjerke, President of the Board of Directors of Henrys Fork Wildlife Alliance, expressed appreciation to all of the volunteers and to NPCA for their help in organizing the project. She says the group hopes to undertake future projects to remove fences that no longer serve their original purpose or modify existing fences to reduce barriers to wildlife movement.