Volunteer fence maintenance a win-win for landowners, big game

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The Obrecht family and workshop organizers set a goal to modify nine miles of fence for the event. By lunch on the second day, the group had modified more than 11 miles of fence. It was a great opportunity for relationship building, community engagement, wildlife habitat improvements and ranching exposure for people that might not otherwise see the intersection of ranching and conservation on the ground.

By Martin Townsend, Pheasants Forever Coordinating Wildlife Biologist in Montana

A partnership between conservation organizations and Blaine County ranchers at the Louie Petrie Ranch north of Turner, Montana, offered two days of hands-on learning, practical ranch work and collaboration to benefit ranching and pronghorn migration in the region.

The Obrecht family hosted more than 40 volunteers June 17 and 18 at their ranch to share how fencing and simple changes of wire heights can help migrating pronghorn. The Woody Island Coulee area is a key migration linkage for pronghorn. Hundreds of animals migrate through the area each year as they follow the narrow strip of grassland from summer to winter ranges.

Along the way, these animals can encounter fences that make travel difficult. This added stress can have negative impacts to their health and survivability, especially in harsh weather. Raising bottom wires on fences to 16 to 18 inches above the ground greatly reduces these hindrances. The field day accomplished just that task for the benefit of migrating pronghorn … and completed some needed fencing maintenance on the ranch.

The Pronghorn Migration Fence Modification Workshop started with presentations related to pronghorn migration and programs from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and Pheasants Forever biologists. Tyler Obrecht shared an overview of the ranch and explained why the family prioritizes wildlife habit alongside their cattle grazing. By managing their grazing in a way that benefits wildlife, business benefits too.

The group toured the ranch to view cropland that has been seeded to grassland, and inspect temporary fence that helps with plant recovery. By grazing small areas for short periods of time, which allows for greater rest time after grazing, Obrecht has noted increased plant vigor and resiliency without sacrificing grazing capacity. This also helps provide high value food sources for wildlife, cover for upland birds, and forage for pronghorn that migrate through.

Volunteers either removed a bottom wire, clipped the next wire up in places, or re-hung at a height easier for pronghorn to get under. Most of the volunteers were conservation agency or organization employees, but surrounding ranchers also came and learned about pronghorn migration and provided support to the fencing crews.

College interns worked alongside state and regional agency directors. Ranchers worked next to PF employees. Some intern participants were from as far away as Massachusetts and had never seen pronghorn before. The event celebrated how ranching and wildlife can co-exist on a prairie landscape.

The project was part of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Montana Focused Conservation effort titled “Hydration for Migration” that leverages partnership support through the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, the USFWS-Partners Program, Montana FWP, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Blaine County Conservation District and other partners.

Partners plan to impact 100,000 acres with grazing management improvements and modify over 50 miles of fence to facilitate pronghorn movement. The project will also improve plant productivity and health, and enhance terrestrial habitat for wildlife and invertebrates.

Thank you to the Obrecht family and the Louie Petrie Ranch for hosting this great event.


This story originally appeared in the 2021 Fall Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!