Marking Fences Saves Lives in Sage Grouse Country

August 4, 2015

The article below was adapted from this post written by Ron Francis and Lori Valadez, which appeared on the USDA Blog.

In the “New West,” livestock fencing can be marked to help reduce collisions for sage grouse and other wildlife. The Sage Grouse Initiative is working with ranchers to improve habitat for sage grouse across the West. One of our top conservation priorities is marking fences.

Sage grouse are especially at risk of hitting fences that are close to established leks (spring courtship dancing grounds), since males usually fly to the lek in the dark. The flatter the landscape, the harder it is for the grouse to see fences. In the most at-risk landscapes, biologists estimate an average of one collision for every mile of fence.

Clearly marked fences prevent sage grouse collisions. Photo by Jeremy R. Roberts, Conservation Media.

Clearly marked fences prevent sage grouse collisions. Both photos by Jeremy R. Roberts, Conservation Media.

In Utah, fence-marking efforts are amplified through partnerships with groups like the Mule Deer Foundation, Utah Dedicated Hunters, conservation districts, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Last year, more than 70 volunteers spent 279 hours installing 250,000 fence markers to save sage grouse from collisions in Utah.

NRCS purchased enough clip-on plastic reflective fence markers for 138.5 miles of fence lines in Utah, and these partners helped round up volunteers to install the fence markers on land owned by willing ranchers — free of charge!

Volunteers included local boy scouts, hunters, university students and private landowners. They  placed a mixture of red and white markers on the top wire of fences: white markers are seen well by grouse in summer, while red contrasts with winter snow. A fence collision risk tool helps wildlife agencies and federal biologists determine where markers will be most effective.

Recent research shows that fence markers can help reduce sage grouse fence collisions by 83 percent. Published estimates report a six-fold decline in collisions along marked versus unmarked fences. Using these rates, the SGI’s fence-marking efforts across the 11-state range, including Utah, are preventing 2,600 fence collisions annually.

 

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.