Grayson Amick, left, and Todd Legler work to remove wooden fence posts during the Four Bear Fence Tear on May 1, 2021. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

On a sunny spring day in early May, roughly 80 people armed with gloves, wire cutters and other tools descended on the BLM Four Bear trailhead near Cody. 

Within six hours, volunteers and land-management-agency personnel had torn down about three miles of obsolete barbed-wire fence and hauled out approximately 4,000 pounds of fencing deemed obstructive to wildlife. 

A close-up of barbed wire fencing removed by volunteers at the Four Bear Fence Tear on May 1, 2021. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

Anyone who’s ever spent time doing fencing work will understand “that’s pretty impressive,” said Tony Mong. Mong works for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and also chairs the steering committee of the Absaroka Fence Initiative, which organized the tear-down. 

“It really showed us, you know, what we can get done on the landscape when we come together and collaborate and build partnerships,” Mong said.

Jimmy Owens uses a pair of fencing pliers to cut the barbed wire off a post during the Four Bear Fence Tear on May 1, 2021. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

The tear-down was the first public event organized by the AFI, which represents a diverse coalition of landowners, agencies and nonprofits focused on the same goal: clearing northern Wyoming’s landscapes of unneeded fences or modifying them to be wildlife friendly.

A young elk tries to push its way through a wildlife-unfriendly fence near Cody. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

This fence work has potential to be a win-win for wildlife as well as land owners, said AFI steering committee member Abby Scott of The Nature Conservancy.

“Fences can be bad for wildlife, but wildlife can also be bad for fences, and they are very expensive assets for landowners to maintain,” Scott said. “Our experience has been that if we can retrofit or modify fencing, it can be done in a way that makes it less dangerous to wildlife, and still allows it to function for its intended purpose for livestock containment. And if it works well for wildlife to pass through it, it actually can save quite a lot of expense and headache for land managers.”

A close-up of animal hair caught in a barbed wire fence in Clark. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

The initiative was formed as a way to pool efforts among several stakeholders, Scott said. 

“It was just kind of a natural recognition that all of us were doing this work separately, and we all understood that we could get a whole lot more done If we started to coordinate that effort,” Scott said.

Tony Mong of Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Abby Scott of The Nature Conservancy Wyoming work together to modify a fence near Clark to make it more wildlife friendly. The December project was undertaken by the Absaroka Fence Initiative as a training exercise. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

The group, which includes members such as ranch owners, BLM employees and representatives from nonprofits like the Wyoming Migration Initiative, planned to launch fence-mending events in 2020 but took a pause when the pandemic scrambled life. 

“This summer, it’s a different story and we’re like, off to the races,” Scott said.

Jenny DeSarro of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and communications chairperson for Absaroka Fence Initiative, greets the crowd of volunteers that gathered to assist with the Four Bear Fence Tear on May 1, 2021. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

In the case of Four Bear, the focus was removing fences rather than modifying them. The land, which is core habitat for migrating mule deer, Mong said, is no longer leased for grazing, making the fencing obsolete.

The turnout well exceeded organizers’ expectations. Mong thinks the AFI’s focus on building partnerships has resulted in a lot of buy-in. “You’re seeing that people are ready and willing to get behind that,” he said.

Russ Lundvall supports several rolls of obsolete barbed wire as Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Ashlee Lundvall provides the means to transport the wire during the Four Bear Fence Tear on May 1, 2021. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

Scott echoed that. 

“I think it also gives people in the community who aren’t a landowner or land manager, you know, that direct connection to the work and it gives them an opportunity to get out there and contribute to it, and use their public lands and improve their public lands,” she said. 

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Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. Very heartening story. However, it brings up the issue of subsidized construction of barbed wire fences on public lands in the first place.