Elk NetworkFixin’ Fence in the Elkhorns

Volunteer News | August 20, 2012

Fixin’ Fence in the Elkhorns

By John Willoughby, Elkhorn Chapter

Elk are mobile creatures, especially when hungry. And it doesn’t matter if a barbed-wire fence stands between them and a rancher’s haystack; they often just plow right through for a free meal. Regular fence repairs cost money and cause a lot of headaches for landowners.

Last May, the RMEF joined forces with three ranchers in Broadwater County, Montana, to repair fences damaged by elk moving back and forth between their properties and public lands in the Elkhorn Mountains. Besides breaking posts and loosening barbwire, the elk had completely torn down nearly 300 feet of fencing across the Hoeffner, Cox and Baum ranches.

Montana’s RMEF Project Advisory Committee (PAC) had approved funding to help the landowners rebuild the fences. But before work could begin, the old dilapidated materials needed to be removed. So the Elkhorn Chapter organized a fence pull project, recruiting 32 volunteers from around the area, including 14 Helena High School students who came out to help the same day as their prom. A few volunteers from the Montana Bowhunters Association, as well as a new RMEF member who drove all the way up from Reno, Nevada, also helped out.

The group gathered at the Hoeffner Ranch at 8 a.m. on May 10, 2010. We introduced the landowners, then lined out what we wanted to accomplish for the day. After a brief safety meeting, the volunteers split up into three groups, one for each ranch. They pulled staples, dropped and rolled wire, and pulled, loaded and transported posts for disposal. In just 5½ hours the crew took out 6½ miles of four- and five-strand barbed-wire fencing and posts. Afterward, the volunteers returned to the Hoeffner Ranch for lunch and many thanks for a job well done.

With the help of RMEF PAC funds, the landowners worked throughout the summer to replace the 6½ miles of fence—plus 1¼ miles more. They accomplished this by using more of the old barbwire than they had anticipated. All of the new or repaired fences now have only four wires instead of five, and the landowners elected to drop the top wire to 42 inches above the ground and raise the bottom wire to 18 inches above the ground. This was done so calves could squeeze under and the rest could jump over while traveling through these high-traffic corridors.

Thanks to all the volunteers—young and old—for all your hard work that day. Hope to see you all again in 2011 for phase II!