On Friday, November 9th three hearty Corvallis high school students and one local volunteer meet Jeff Clarke and I to remove barbed wire fencing and posts from MPG Ranch. The day was beautiful by my standards, but the cold temps and periodic blowing snow meant we had to work to stay warm.
We started our day behind the Top House clearing posts and some remnants of barbed wire from a heavily used elk corridor. It was apparent how the herd streams down the mountainside to the fields below. Their paths were well worn into the earth. It was also clear that they bottlenecked at the one gate in the fence and then fanned out again in their travels.
We all wondered just how long it would take them to adapt to their newly unrestricted path. Would they continue to bottleneck there out of habit? How long would it be before new paths get worn in the land?
After lunch we moved up onto Baldy to clear a stretch of fence from the west slope. We were greeted by a group of mule deer that refused to yield their territory and just stared at us from the high ground, even as we hiked straight at them. When they did finally retreat they all had to jump the fence that we were about to take down. In a few hours time, the deer would no longer need to concern themselves with an obstacle that had stood in their way for decades. The fawns that drop this coming spring would be spared barbed wire scars that is the mark of so many deer in this sort of terrain.
Volunteers worked hard at pulling wire and staples. Jeff coiled the wire along behind us. And in a short time the wire was gone and the land was clear of that line of fence.
Everyone felt good about the work we had done. There is something very gratifying about removing fencing. Maybe it’s seeing a very tangible result for your efforts combined with doing good for animals and the landscape.
As we drove out of the ranch gates in the sideways afternoon light, a cow moose hurried across in front of our vehicle. We stopped to watch her jump one fence, then another, and another, before she got hung up - her hind leg suspended in the air. For a moment we wondered what we would have to do. But thankfully she managed to kick herself free and continued on her way.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was an unexpected lesson that really drove home the importance of the work we had just done. I have seen hooves hanging from fence lines, their owners doomed. It is an ugly sight. The barbed wire on the ranch has served its purpose. It kept the cows in for generations, but now wildlife has free range once again.
Fence Pull - Friday, November 16th. Round 2
Five volunteers gathered Friday November 16th to remove fences again. The day promised to be warm (for November) and sunny as we sported our blaze orange vests and headed into the Northern Floodplain. Our goal was to clear barbed wire from around a wetland. As we set out from the Orchard House, I had a nagging feeling that I had forgotten something. What could it be? Tools, check. Volunteers, check. Well, off to work.
A few days earlier I had received a call from MPG’s amphibian researcher requesting that barbed wired be removed from around a wetland. The wire had proved quite a nuisance for the researchers working in that area. The wetland would be where we would begin our day. We found the derelict remains of an old fence line that ran in and out of the hillside, under logs, and braided itself through thick brush. We pulled everything that hadn’t been thoroughly consumed by the old cut bank and threw in an old fifty gallon drum for good measure. The floodplain is subject to what floodwaters bring, and there was a cornucopia of random oddities strewn about. We grabbed what we could readily see and called it a morning.
After lunch we relocated to the west face of Baldy where a previous crew had pulled wire. This week, however, there were no mule deer to greet us. Wildlife was conspicuously absent from the surrounding hillsides on this sun soaked afternoon. Perhaps they all finally realized that it was hunting season and discretion mattered.
We divided up into two crews. One would remove the wooden posts left from last week’s efforts and stack them to create habitat for the land’s smaller creatures, and one would head up the mountain following the barbed wire into the thicker forest. As Murphy's Law would have it, the fence line running up into the forest was all t-posts, and that nagging feeling I had in the morning was the t-post puller calling to me from the barn. Darn. We’d have to settle for just removing the wire, which ended up being enough for the afternoon. I hated leaving an unsightly line of t-posts jutting snaggletoothed from the hillside, but they would have to wait for another day.
We rolled, carried, and struggled with the barbed wire rolls on the way down the mountain to the road where we could pick them up in a vehicle. We loaded several awkward spools of wire and the few t-post that came willingly and deposited them with their brethren in Partridge Alley. There was just enough time to clean up both sites and call it a day. We’ll be back for the rest of those t-posts next time.
Joshua graduated from the University of Montana, Missoula, in 2009 with an M.A. in Intercultural Youth and Family Development. Joshua has designed and implemented wilderness and experiential-based education programs for various agencies since 2001. He has worked in Missoula since 2005 predominately with disadvantaged populations providing challenging and empowering programming for youth and adults alike.
At MPG, Joshua works to coordinate with local agencies and school districts as well as the university to connect students and members of the community to MPG’s work. He also recruits and mobilizes volunteers to accomplish various projects for the ranch. In his free time, Joshua enjoys exploring Montana’s wild places. As an avid outdoorsman, he enjoys any pursuit that keeps him connected to the natural world.