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Wildlife-friendly fencing catching on across Sonoma County

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For more information about how to protect wildlife from fencing:

Landowner’s guide to fencing

Creating a wildlife-friendly fence

Have you ever watched as a fawn, a coyote or a quail scurries in a panic to find its way around, over or through a fence?

Fences of all descriptions crisscross Sonoma County, and they are a major obstacle for animals simply trying to find food, water and shelter.

There are literally thousands of miles of fence in the county, built for many different purposes: for privacy, to keep pets or livestock in, to mark boundaries, to protect crops, to keep deer out, to protect property from vandalism, to keep animals from entering roadsides. There are many types of fences, some that allow wildlife to safely pass through while others that are actually quite hazardous.

According to those who have researched this issue, the most lethal type of fencing is woven-wire, with one or two strands of barbed wire over the top. These fences block smaller animals from crawling underneath, and often snare one leg of animals like deer that attempt to jump them. Perhaps you’ve seen the remains of a doe or fawn that has met its fate in this manner, left to die dangling from one foot on the far side of the fence. In fact, one study in Utah found that fawns accounted for 90% of the mortalities on woven wire fences.

These are uncomfortable realities, but ones that many different land owners and land managers are confronting. We are doing out part at Sonoma County Regional Parks, working with partners and volunteers to remove old fences in places like Sonoma Valley Regional Park. The best fence often is no fence at all.

We also are working to replace old barbed wire fences with new ones that have smooth wires on the top and bottom, none of which is more than 40 inches tall. They adhere to guidelines set out by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and mirror those being used all across the West.

These wildlife-friendly fences allow us to keep cattle in where we want grazing for natural resource benefit, while allowing wildlife safe passage.

Wildlife-friendly fences benefit a wide range of animal species, including large carnivores like mountain lions, wide-ranging omnivores like black bears, smaller predators such as badgers, and even raptors and upland game birds.

Science is helping us discover which Bay Area lands are most important to wildlife as it passes through. By analyzing the areas where that movement is concentrated — streams and ridgelines and areas that still are relatively undeveloped — several maps have been drawn that indicate priority areas for conservation.

While they are helpful, it is important to recognize that micro linkages exist along every small waterway and ridgeline throughout the county. Much can be done at the scale of small farms, individual homes and backyards to address wildlife connectivity.

The most important thing you can do in your own yards is to consider making enclosures as small as possible to meet your needs. Rather than putting a deer fence around the entire property, for example, focus just on your garden space. If you have wilder portions of your property along streams or wetlands, consider removing all fencing that is nonessential.

And making your fences wildlife-friendly can have unintended positive consequences. Researchers have noted that some vineyard managers experience less damage from gophers and other rodents when they strategically allow passage for natural predators such as coyotes and foxes. A healthy balance of wildlife species on your property can keep our more pesky species in check.

So, next time you are driving through your neighborhood, through town or along the beautiful Sonoma County back roads, take time to consider how well animals can navigate through, under or over our fences. Perhaps it may inspire you to get on board with the movement toward wildlife-friendly fencing.

Melanie Parker is the natural resource manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks. Contact her at melanie.parker@sonoma-county.org.

For more information about how to protect wildlife from fencing:

Landowner’s guide to fencing

Creating a wildlife-friendly fence

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