By Julie Doctor
I remember about a score of years ago when Cal Trans decided to cut the steep bank adjacent to Highway 198 near the intersection with South Fork Drive. To keep the newly created bank from further eroding onto the highway, a blanket of chain link fence was affixed to the ground. Mending fences
Several months later, I was driving by and witnessed a family of about five deer enter the area and become extremely horrified while trying to painfully make their way through the new obstacle course. I felt sick to my stomach, a feeling that I was going to experience many times afterwards witnessing deer and other wildlife trying to negotiate the barriers that local humans keep incrementally throwing up in which the critters are often unsuccessful, or at the very least, traumatized, in their efforts to surmount. Mending fences
There is something we all need to realize or remind ourselves of: for all the wild creatures for a hundred square miles, the branches of the Kaweah River are their only water source during much of the year. Birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and creatures great and small rely on the Kaweah to survive. Mending fences
The corridors they use have existed for generations. When we block their access to water, we are killing not just one animal, eliminating not just one species in our neighborhood, but destroying a whole ecosystem. Mending fences
Already we have many fewer wild creatures than we did 20 years ago — we risk losing many more.
Fences not only block water access, but create danger for animals trying to cross roads.
Look at the long, high walls along the Generals Highway that the National Park Service constructed with no openings to allow the wildlife to safely cross. Wildlife routes are blocked for long stretches causing deer and other wildlife to come off the hillside and get caught on the highway for long distances before they can safely exit. Deer in the headlights with no place to hide. The NPS could easily remedy this by breaking out sections to accommodate needed escape routes.
Here in Three Rivers, a recent onslaught of severe fencing has greatly endangered wildlife. In order to protect and contain farm animals, pets, and gardens, some property owners have built fences that exclude wildlife.
Traditionally, Three Rivers was fenced for horses and cattle by smooth or barbed wire fences that the wildlife could safely breach. No harm, no foul.
Lately, new residents are choosing to construct solid or near solid fences that are like prison walls, whether or not they are necessary. We all need to look at our fencing and ask ourselves if we could make do with less.
We do have choices when we fence. I am guilty of having a 2” x 4” wire fence to keep my dogs safe, but it is a relatively small enclosure.
My choice for my horses is a pipe and cable fence that is low maintenance and safe for domestic and wild animals.
Many pets can be contained with an electronic enclosure.
Think about it if you are planning to build a fence. Wild creatures of all sizes need to either be able to crawl under or through it.
And while we are on the subject, if you have natural vegetation on your property that you can optionally leave for wildlife cover (fire regulations obviously exclude more and more of such habitat), please consider their needs. I love seeing the deer bring their babies to lounge on my property regularly.
They obviously feel safe here. I talk with them a lot and tell them they are safe. Bobcats and bears too, sometimes.
I truly feel lucky to have them for neighbors. I don’t even charge them for living here, and much prefer them to the hordes of human visitors who have invaded our little town more recently.
I like the concept of being a steward instead of a landlord. There is no one right fencing solution for everyone; I’m just hoping you will think hard about what will work for you and also for the wildlife who cross your property to get to water or feeding areas.
As I try to discuss my real agony over this subject with my fellow citizens, I am reminded that most people who are new to country living are not even aware of this travesty. Maybe we just need to educate people and they will choose to accommodate wildlife instead of excluding them.
I often hear people argue, “Oh but the deer can jump over these fences,” and I answer “The babies can’t, nor can the raccoons, badgers, bobcats, etc.”
I understand that wildlife can disrupt our gardens and sometimes our pets, but do we really want to rob them of their environment completely? Can’t we share?
Several years ago, I had a very vivid dream about starting up a business called “Living Fences.” I often think about what a good idea that is.
Those who don’t have to fence in animals would benefit by having natural barriers as some residents already employ. An intruder might think harder about breaching such barriers that might house poisonous flora and fauna than hopping a fence.
Also, natural barriers can hide buildings or other items of value. Since I began to put this fence proposition into writing, I already have convinced a neighbor to change some fencing in order to provide a corridor for the deer (and other wildlife) to use along the North Fork… and just last night I witnessed a little forked horn buck utilizing it.
So, yes Virginia, there is hope.
Julie Doctor, who has lived in Three Rivers for many decades, submitted this commentary. She also provides thanks to Chris Lynch for support and editing.