Montana Launches First “Fence-marking Partnership Project” in Ekalaka

December 5, 2013

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Link to NRCS website version of the story


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Photo to right: Gillian Brooks clips markers on a fence on a ranch near Alzada as part of the partnership project. Brooks is a  Pheasants Forever-supported SGI field biologist from nearby Belle Fourche, South Dakota. (Photo, Bruce Waage)



Bruce Waage, NRCS/BLM Liaison Sage-grouse, 406-657-6135,

Deborah Richie, SGI Communications Director, 406-370-7556,

 Preventing Sage Grouse Collisions

You don’t end up in Ekalaka by accident.  It’s simply too far off the beaten track to stumble upon the tiny town in southeastern Montana. The state’s first fence-marking partnership project started not in Ekalaka, but another hour and a half drive from there into a vast sea of sage.


Vinyl fence markers clip easily onto barbed wire (photo, Conservation Media)



The intent of marking fences is to make them visible to prevent grouse from flying into them. (photo, Conservation Media).

Sage grouse thrive in expansive sagebrush country, but they face danger from an unlikely culprit – fences.  Birds flying into their mating grounds (leks) in the darkness of early dawn can collide with barbed wire that’s invisible to them. The answer is simple—mark the high-risk fences. Research from the Sage Grouse Initiative shows that strategically marking fences reduces bird strikes by 83 percent.

Martin Ellenburg, Natural Resources Conservation Service area biologist out of Miles City, took the lead in this first partnership project, designed to accelerate availability, delivery and installation of fence markers throughout Montana’s sage grouse range.

Ellenburg led the group of agency staff and volunteers with their stash of 5,500 fence-markers south to a ranch near Alzada, where a landowner wanted to make a positive difference of the birds. The team worked side-by-side with the rancher, clipping the white vinyl markers on the barbed wire.

The five partners are the Bureau of Land Management, Intermountain West Joint Venture, Montana Department of Fish Wildlife & Parks, Montana Association of Conservation Districts, and the NRCS, via the Sage Grouse Initiative.  American Colloid Company contributed to this first project to kick-start the effort.

COR Enterprises worker assists with making fence markers. (Bruce Waage photo)

COR Enterprises worker assists with making fence markers. (Bruce Waage photo)

The first objective is to make the fence markers free, easily obtainable, and locally available. That’s where another key partner comes in, COR Enterprises, a workshop in Billings that provides meaningful work to people with disabilities. The workers there have cut more than 100,000 markers in the last three years, with orders rising every day.

After COR Enterprises makes the markers, the partnership takes the next step, getting the markers into the field and onto the fences, working closely with private landowners and volunteers.  Sixty-four percent of Montana’s sage grouse habitat occurs on private lands. Getting the work to the ranchers of the need, and availability is another key part of the project.

COR Enterprises worker loads markers into boxes. (photo, Bruce Waage)

COR Enterprises worker loads markers into boxes. (photo, Bruce Waage)

Fence collisions are one of many threats to sage grouse, but the acceleration of the fence-marking effort will add to the positive side of the ledger when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the birds listing status under Endangered Species Act, to be decided by September 2015.

If you are interested in participating or contributing to this voluntary program, please contact Bruce Waage: 406-657-6135 or Pete Husby: 406-587-6902.

For more information:

Download the fence-marking installation guide.

Carter County Contacts for Sage Grouse Initiative & other landowner programs:

  • NRCS Ekalaka Field Office, Rebecca Wolenetz, district conservationist: (406) 775-6355 ext. 105;
  • Carter County Conservation District: (406) 775-6355 ext. 3

Click here to find NRCS local contacts in your area


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.