Wildlife-friendly fencing project begins in Bighorn Mountains

Wyoming Department of Transportation contractors recently began work on several miles of wildlife-friendly fence construction and modifications in the Bighorn Mountains west of Buffalo.

According to a Wyoming Game and Fish press release, the fencing will happen as part of a repaving project on Highway 16 between mile markers 43 and 63.

“This is a high use area for deer, elk, and moose, which requires them to navigate the busy highway as well as the adjacent fences,” Buffalo Wildlife Biologist Cheyenne Stewart said. “Presumably, if these large ungulates spend less time navigating fences adjacent to roads, it will reduce the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions as well as injury and separation of adult animals from their young. Making fences more permeable for wildlife while still keeping livestock safely off the roadway will benefit wildlife, livestock owners and motorists alike.” 

New wooden rail fence will be constructed on both sides of the highway for 3.5 miles between Powder River Pass and the Leigh Creek Dump Station. The current fence consists of woven wire with a single strand of barbed wire on top. It will be replaced by a wooden fence with two horizontal rails, with a strand of smooth wire below and two strands of wire between the rails. This design is intended to keep domestic sheep from crossing the fence, but allows wildlife such as deer and elk to move over it. 

“The wood rail fence design is a request from the Forest Service,” Laura Dalles, public involvement specialist for WYDOT District 4 said. “Typically the landowner, in this case the Forest Service, may request a specific type of fence be installed as long as it meets our standards. Because this construction project is along a scenic byway, this type of fence is commonly requested and installed.” 

In addition, some sections of the newly constructed wooden fence will incorporate lay-down fence. Lay-down fences are 50-foot sections of fence where the poles can be dropped to the ground and the wire pulled back like a gate. The lay-down fences will be installed on both sides of the highway in three locations, according to the press release. 

“Where the landscape topography already facilitates wildlife movement, particularly for moose, the fence will be able to be laid down during times of the year when livestock are not present, allowing for easier movement,” Dalles said.

In addition to the new fence construction, crews have completed modifications on five miles of existing wire fence on the north side of the highway between Hazelton Road and Powder River Pass. These modifications removed one of the four barbed wires, lowered the top wire from 45 to 42 inches and raised the bottom smooth wire from 12 to 16 inches. The top two wires are spaced 12 inches apart, minimizing the chance of entanglement when an animal jumps the fence.

“Increasing the height of the lowest wire from the ground allows fawns and calves to crawl under the fence,” Stewart said. “Lowering the top fence wire makes it safer for adults to jump the fence, particularly when the fence is perpendicular to a slope, making the effective fence height even higher.”

The modifications adhere to wildlife-friendly fencing specifications agreed upon by local WYDOT, Game and Fish and Bighorn National Forest personnel.  

This project was budgeted for and has been in the State Transportation Improvement Program schedule for six years and is being funded by the Ten Cents fuel tax fund.

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