Years ago, when my first niece went mobile (as in crawling), I remember scooting around my apartment (as many people do), rooting out potential hazards from a toddler’s POV. Your world view obviously changes when eye level is at the knee.
A similar thing happened when Hugh and I started working with wildlife. We’ve seen enough birds come in with head trauma after hitting windows, tangled in garden netting, stuck to glue traps, struck by windmills, orphaned by chain saws . . . the two of us never view our post-industrial existence in the same way. Frankly, it’s astonishing that wild animals survive at all, given the countless hazards and barriers we humans erect.
The Devil’s Rope . . . or . . . Barbed Wire
Which brings me to The Devil’s Rope, barbed wire — so named by nomadic Native Americans who saw the writing in the barbs as it criss-crossed, subdivided and closed off the open prairies of the West. There are books about barbed wire and its place in history, barbed wire collectors, antique barbed wire designs, barbed wire art. There’s even a barbed wire museum in McLean, Texas — The Devil’s Rope Museum — housing some of those artifacts.
Barbed wire is just doing the job it was invented to do — keeping livestock in and intruders out. But it’s so good at this task, it’s been a nefarious force throughout history and in wartime. And, in the wildlife world, it’s an invention that’s caused injury, death and significant suffering for countless species.
Wildlife and Barbed Wire
I don’t have photos of deer or elk or bats caught and torn on barbed fencing, but some of the pieces I link to here show such effects from barbed and wire fencing. With ungulates (hooved animals like deer) it’s often the young who succumb. A study done in 2004 and 2005 (Colorado and Utah) estimated that there was one ungulate death per 2.5 miles of fencing (annually). This study found that juveniles were eight times more likely to die in fence accidents than adults. There are accounts of dead fawns, curled up next to fences, ostensibly because they were unable to cross where the adult animals did. In Colorado a few years ago, we witnessed the difficulty young elk had in following their parents across a simple wooden fence that was just too high. Adult elk would take the young and guide them to an area where the juveniles could circumvent the obstacle.
Building Wildlife-Friendly Fences
The fence v. wildlife problem is international but, fortunately, global awareness of the problem is growing. In Australia, the Wildlife Friendly Fencing Project aims to educate people on safer options. One basic solution is to remove the top two tiers of barbed wire, where most of the birds and mammals tend to get tangled. Or cover the most hazardous sections with plastic tubing. Those are two among many remedies land owners can explore.
Here in the States the Jackson Hole Foundation’s fence removal project is just one program focused on tearing down the damaging barbs. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks published How to Build Fence With Wildlife in Mind. According to this publication, the worst are fences that:
- are too high to jump
- are too low to crawl under
- have loose wires
- have wires spaced too closely together
- are difficult for fleeing animals or birds to see
- create a complete barrier
The 41-page document is available online and offers guidelines, designs and even precise measurements for wildlife-friendly fencing.
There is one case I read about where razor wire is actually protecting the wildlife living inside its confines: Guantanamo Bay. This National Geographic piece discusses how limited access behind the barbed wire has helped certain species survive — species that might have otherwise been consumed by humans living in desperate economic times.
Uh . . . there’s always an upside?
The Photos: Shot near Jack London Square in Oakland, Hugh and I closed in on the razor wire against the blue sky. PP (post processing) was a bit of dodging and burning to brighten the sky. I’d spot-metered on the wire (without any exposure compensation), rendering the sky a darker blue than it was in actuality. The glare on the concertina wire came from the sun, not from over-correction of levels. I thought about exposing for the glare, but then decided I liked the gleeming quality.