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Fixing fence and wildlife

Its been snowing wet spring snows every day.  But this morning there was a nice break and blue sky interspersed with strange light and dark clouds over an immensely beautiful white landscape.

Gorgeous till it started snowing again around 2pm

I’ve been learning a lot about what it is to go ‘ster crazy’, ‘cabin fever’.  Its been a new experience for me being a native Californian.  So I took this opportunity to get outside, and not wanting to try my hand anymore this winter at hiking in the snow, especially wet snow, I decided to fix my fence instead.

I need a fence because I border National Forest where permittees seasonally run cattle.  In Wyoming, the law requires you to fence out.  In fact, you have to have a fence built to Wyoming state specs if you are to have any rights or say about cattle being in your yard.  If a cow is hurt while on your property, if it wasn’t fenced correctly, then you, the homeowner, are liable for that cow.

My fence in 2005. I have a smooth bottom wire now but the top 2 strands are even funkier

Frankly, I hate barbed wire.  We all know that it was the invention of barbed wire that was the final death knell of the West; what partitioned off the free range.  Besides, it tears up my pants and my hands.

Last year I removed the lowest string of wire and replaced it with a smooth wire.  Its easier on the wildlife, although the deer and elk prefer to jump the fence anyways.  I don’t have pronghorn where I live.  Pronghorn never jump fences but prefer to go under and so often die not knowing where or how to get under a tight fence.

But I have seen elk get caught up jumping a fence.  When they can’t see the top wire and they’re stressed, they might not make the leap.  This winter I watched an older elk, frightened by a car, run back and forth trying to decide where to jump a fenceline, then judge it incorrectly and break her leg.  A few days later she was a meal for the coyotes.  Last year an elk died with its leg in the top wire of a fence line.

My own fence I inherited.  The previous owners sometimes brought their mules, but they didn’t maintain the fence.  Although I’ve replaced the bottom with a smooth wire, to keep cattle out and stay legal, I need to have the middle and top wire be barbed (ugh!).  But my top wire was saggy and I’ve been wanting to stretch.  Probably one of the most dangerous things for wildlife are saggy wires.  They are easy to get caught in.  My ultimate desire would be for a post and rail fence, but, sorry, I just can’t afford that.

The super wildlife friendly fence. Costly though and I have such rocky ground

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks publishes on their webpage a great booklet entitled How to Build Fence with Wildlife in Mind. Its got tons of handy tips and describes lots of different styles and types of fences.  In there, for a 3 strand fence for Low or Seasonal Livestock Use, they recommend posts placed at 16.5′ apart, Top wire 40″ preferred (42″ maximum), mid wire 28-30″ from the ground, and the bottom wire at 18″.

Instructions for a 3 strand smooth wire in light stock areas

But I’m substituting from the above barbed top and middle to be Wyoming compliant, but here is one that has a smooth wire on the bottom for wildlife, but is legal and good for heavy stock use.

For heavy stock use and wildlife friendly

I’m finally starting to get pretty good at fence work.  Its taken me several years and lots of mistakes since I’ve had no fence guru to instruct me.  I unleashed the top wire for about 1/3 of the fence line and began, in shorter sections, using a stretcher.  After about 2 hours, I’d re-stretched about 1/2 the fence line to the south.  I regrouped at the cabin for lunch and supplies, then headed back to start the next section.  The weather was beginning to shift, getting cloudier and colder.

I began undoing the top wire, moving along the fence westward.  All morning I’d noticed crows cawing around the mountains.  When I returned from lunch, a golden eagle soared above.  I wondered about something dead higher up.  But the surprise was on me.  There, on the inside of my fence, right next to the fence in fact, was a fresh dead deer.   Had it misjudged or not seen the fence?  Its eyes were already poked out, eaten by the crows.

This is the second dead deer in two weeks I’ve run into.  The last one I showed a photo on my post.  This one rigor mortis hadn’t even set in.  It had been eaten on just a little from its back hind quarters.  Either it just died there and had been scavenged or possibly a coyote might have brought it down.  I was certain that bear would be back soon for another meal.

It is the toughest time of year right now for deer and elk.  They’ve had a long winter, are bony and weak.  The new grass is showing its greenery, but not much yet and certainly not much higher than a 1/2″ tall. These deer hang around here all winter long.  I’m sure I’ve seen this one many times in my yard.

I suppose I won’t be finishing fixing fence for a week or so.

Wikiups, cattle and a few hundred years

This is not going to look like much, but there’s a story here.

This summer I contacted the Forest Service archaeologist.  The forest service is planning on doing logging and burning in the valley for beetle damage.  Since our stream is on forest service land, and is a sensitive area, I didn’t want logging done there.  The hydrologist, the archaeologist and the permit supervisor came out and did a walk through.  Afterwards, I took the archaeologist aside and showed her some arrowheads and a large spear I’d found on my property.

2500-3000 year old spear head found on property

The archaeologist was amazed at the find and told me she wanted to come back with Larry Todd, a premier archaeologist in the state, and make some molds of the spear from clay.

In the fall, Larry and Molly came up to my house and made an identical mold of the spear.  Larry put the age, although it was very hard to age it, at around 2500 years old.  I showed him a small obsidian arrowhead that I had found, oddly enough, on the same day, behind my house.  He aged that at around 4000 years old.

Molly and Larry were on their way up the valley to find, document, measure, and photograph some wikiups.  They invited me to come along.  They had a rough photograph taken in the seventies of the five wikiups which were still standing at the time.  A former forest service archaeologist had measured and documented them.

I knew the small drainage.  I’d hiked it several times.  It was an off shoot that had only a well-used animal trail heading up it.  The trail led to a small flat clearing which then separates into two very narrow draws, both of which get steep and dead end quickly.  I’d never seen any wikiups there.

We hiked up the draw and arrived at the clearing.  Molly had shown me the photo from the 1970’s.  The wikiups were upright and intact.  But now she pointed them out, a pile of sticks.  Once I knew what I was looking at, it was easy to find the five piles of sticks–old sticks, but still now just sticks.

The two archaeologists spent an hour collecting data.  Larry said these wikiups were probably over 300 years old.  The poles, unrecognizable to me even though I’m quite familiar with trees, were made of aspen.  Looking around, there were only one or two aspen in the area.  Obviously the landscape had been different then, changed mostly by frequent fire.

A long time resident had told Molly that he used to picnic here with his parents as a child.  The wikiups were still standing then.  But the cattle that are allowed to run free-range in the valley also liked to lay here and rub themselves against the standing wikiup poles.  Eventually the cattle knocked all of them over.

Wow!  After 300 years intact, these special artifacts were destroyed in just the last 25 years–by cattle.

300 year old wikiup standing till 25 years ago when destroyed by cattle

Would we let cattle  hang around the Liberty Bell, defecating and knocking the bell over?  I was saddened and appalled at the unconscious policies that allowed these cattle to run rampant over native sacred heritage sites.   These cattle, owned by a super wealthy ranch, provide only a nice tax break for the ranch owner.

Have we lost our perspective?  We must make an effort to preserve these delicate sites.  Soon fires will come and destroy them; that is for sure.  But our stance should be to protect these sites, as long as we can, for future generations, and, if for no other reason, out of respect to the peoples who came before and their present day ancestors.