On a sunny spring day in early May, roughly 80 people armed with gloves, wire cutters and other tools descended on the BLM Four Bear trailhead near Cody.
Within six hours, volunteers and land-management-agency personnel had torn down about three miles of obsolete barbed-wire fence and hauled out approximately 4,000 pounds of fencing deemed obstructive to wildlife.
Anyone who’s ever spent time doing fencing work will understand “that’s pretty impressive,” said Tony Mong. Mong works for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and also chairs the steering committee of the Absaroka Fence Initiative, which organized the tear-down.
“It really showed us, you know, what we can get done on the landscape when we come together and collaborate and build partnerships,” Mong said.
The tear-down was the first public event organized by the AFI, which represents a diverse coalition of landowners, agencies and nonprofits focused on the same goal: clearing northern Wyoming’s landscapes of unneeded fences or modifying them to be wildlife friendly.
This fence work has potential to be a win-win for wildlife as well as land owners, said AFI steering committee member Abby Scott of The Nature Conservancy.
“Fences can be bad for wildlife, but wildlife can also be bad for fences, and they are very expensive assets for landowners to maintain,” Scott said. “Our experience has been that if we can retrofit or modify fencing, it can be done in a way that makes it less dangerous to wildlife, and still allows it to function for its intended purpose for livestock containment. And if it works well for wildlife to pass through it, it actually can save quite a lot of expense and headache for land managers.”
The initiative was formed as a way to pool efforts among several stakeholders, Scott said.
“It was just kind of a natural recognition that all of us were doing this work separately, and we all understood that we could get a whole lot more done If we started to coordinate that effort,” Scott said.
The group, which includes members such as ranch owners, BLM employees and representatives from nonprofits like the Wyoming Migration Initiative, planned to launch fence-mending events in 2020 but took a pause when the pandemic scrambled life.
“This summer, it’s a different story and we’re like, off to the races,” Scott said.
In the case of Four Bear, the focus was removing fences rather than modifying them. The land, which is core habitat for migrating mule deer, Mong said, is no longer leased for grazing, making the fencing obsolete.
The turnout well exceeded organizers’ expectations. Mong thinks the AFI’s focus on building partnerships has resulted in a lot of buy-in. “You’re seeing that people are ready and willing to get behind that,” he said.
Scott echoed that.
“I think it also gives people in the community who aren’t a landowner or land manager, you know, that direct connection to the work and it gives them an opportunity to get out there and contribute to it, and use their public lands and improve their public lands,” she said.