ENDANGERED SPECIES: Fence reflectors could save small birds and big bucks -- report (01/29/2009)
Patrick Reis, E&E reporter
Attaching reflectors to Western fences could save enough sage grouse lives to keep the bird off the endangered species list, a development that would be well received by the oil and gas industry, a national environmental group said.
The sage grouse and prairie chicken, Western icons and popular sport birds, struggle to see the thin wire fences often erected on public lands and around private infrastructure, and, as a result, often collide with the fences fatally, according to the report from the Environmental Defense Fund.
The exact death toll from such collisions is difficult to measure because dead birds are frequently taken before researchers come across them, but an Oklahoma study blamed collisions for up to 40 percent of prairie chicken deaths and other studies indicate fences cause about one-fifth of all recorded sage grouse deaths.
|Plastic reflectors designed to make wire fence wildlife-visible in low-light conditions adorn a fence adjacent to a lek or strutting area on BLM land in Prairie County, Mont. The markers are placed as part of a BLM program designed to mitigate wildlife mortality, particularly sage and sharptail grouse, due to fence collisions. Photo credit: BLM.
Plastic reflectors designed to make wire fence wildlife-visible in low-light conditions adorn a fence adjacent to a lek or strutting area on BLM land in Prairie County, Mont. The markers are placed as part of a BLM program designed to mitigate wildlife mortality, particularly sage and sharptail grouse, due to fence collisions. Courtesy of BLM.
The fence-caused deaths in addition to oil and gas drilling, grazing and other development, which have destroyed half the sage grouse's original year-round habitat, are factors blamed for pushing the birds closer to endangered status. Wildlife groups have advocated for more protection for the sage grouse for years, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently in the process of evaluating whether the sage grouse should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. If the birds are listed, the ensuing environmental safeguards could pose costly hurdles to oil and gas development."Listing these birds under the Endangered Species Act is likely to have far-reaching consequences for livestock grazing, oil and gas development, and wind energy development across much of the country," said Michael Bean, senior director of EDF's wildlife program. "Reducing the hazard from fencing is a practical step that can be taken now to reduce one of the known threats to these birds. It could produce immediate benefits for very little money. This is a smart investment, and one we can afford."
Reflectors entail vinyl siding or flapping strips of cloth and could be installed on fences for about $200 per mile -- a 2 percent cost increase, Bean said.
Fences are continually erected in the West, mostly to control the movement of cattle. Since 2005, BLM has built 3,150 miles of fence in the 15 states inhabited by sage grouse or prairie chickens: California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Federal land managers are already using reflectors on an experimental scale. BLM's Montana office is incorporating fence reflectors into current and upcoming resource management plans, according to agency biologist Kent Undlin.
The reflectors are in addition to other specifications for fencing on BLM land. Generally, BLM tries to avoid placing fences near leks, which are sage grouse breeding grounds, Undlin said. All federal fences must have smooth bottoms and allow space for small animals to pass under safely and can be no higher than 42 inches off the ground.
"The days of putting a seven-wire or woven-wire fence on federal ground are gone," Undlin said.
Wildlife Crossing Structures
When they redid Hwy 93 south of Flathead Lake the tribe pushed for building game crossing structures. Some were thinking critters wouldn't use them, but these remote cameras clearly show that they do. Looks like the tribe fought for this and it is proving successful at protecting wildlife, let alone deterring collisions with motorists. This is a real success for the Tribes in Montana. Quite the zoo out there.