By Samantha Johnson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Pronghorn Corridor Enhancement Project is now in its 15th year.
Since 2009, volunteers with the Alberta Fish and Game Association have been modifying fences across southern Alberta to make it easier for pronghorn, commonly known as antelope, to have fewer barriers when moving across the prairie landscape.
Each year, they typically organize three fencing events, with 8-10 miles of fencing modified each time. T.J. Schwanky, wildlife projects facilitator with the AFGA, said, “We typically work with local, private land holders and we modify their existing cattle fences to be more pronghorn friendly. What’s involved is replacing the bottom barbed wire with a smooth wire and setting it at 18 inches.”
It is rare for antelope to jump a fence and they require a minimum of 16 inches to get underneath. Thus, by setting the entire fence at 18 inches, it allows them to get under at any point.
“If you drive around southern Alberta, you will notice there are quite a few low wires,” explained Schwanky. “In low spots there are probably crossings for antelope, but those may be only every mile or so. It can lead to traffic accidents with wildlife and makes it easier for predators to catch antelope.”
Antelope have sensitive hair and skin, so when they crawl under barbed wire, even if it is high enough, it can cause severe wounds to their back that can become infected and lead to death. This is why, in addition to raising the bottom wire up, the barbed wire is replaced with smooth wire.
While the primary goal of the project is to make it easier for pronghorn to move, there has been a secondary benefit for other species, such as elk, deer and moose.
“What they are finding is about 80 per cent of the mule deer that maybe jumped before and possibly got caught up are now going under the fence,” stated Schwanky.
A fencing event took place near Byemoor at the end of July where about nine miles of fence were modified. The next event was near Manyberries from Aug. 19-20 and there will be another in Milk River from Sept. 16-17.
At the one in Manyberries, which is on a new site the Alberta Conservation Association recently bought, volunteers respaced the other wires to a wildlife friendly standard. The site is currently fenced for cattle and will be left that way.
The wires are now inches from the ground, top at 40, the second one at 28, then 25 and 18 at the bottom.
“It leaves a one-foot gap between the top wire and the second wire down, so if they do happen to get caught up when they are jumping, they don’t get entangled in it quite so easily,” said Schwanky.
When the first project started in 2009, the AFGA and Department of National Defence employees modified 50 km of fence surrounding Suffield Base. Since then, due to the success of the project, all fencing on the base has been modified to pronghorn-friendly standards by the Department of National Defence.
In the project’s entirety, more than 600 km of smooth wire have been installed by volunteers and close to 1,800 km of barbed wire has been set to wildlife-friendly standards. The project has also permanently removed an additional 50 km of page wire and more than 150 km of barbed wire from the landscape. Additionally, landowners constructing new fences or upgrading existing ones have been supplied with smooth wire.
Pronghorns experienced a devastating winter during 2010-11, but populations have been rebounding, and making it easier for antelope to move across the landscape only helps to hasten recovery.