I spend each summer engaging Nature as I live in my camper. I’m passionate about my solitude, avoiding humanity as I visit forests, grasslands, and mountains. One day, I asked myself the question: “What do you see the most of?”. The answer that easily came to me was “fences”.
The feeling associated with this revelation was not comfortable. In fact, fences reminded me of humanity and its biblical mandate of having “dominion” over Nature. It reminded me of the modern mindset that mankind can and should control Nature. This world view of controlling everything is reflected both in the average human as well as with government agencies who oversee public lands and who try to make us think they are “managing” Nature.
The average fence is a statement of human “ownership”. This is mine!!! A sign of dominance and control even though ownership is a human fabricated myth. Fences are prevalent in agricultural areas to keep livestock (meat that is not good for us) from wandering too far. The US government’s massive grazing programs on public lands have installed fences in forests and meadows to define grazing leases.
Some ecologists believe that the protection of biodiversity from overuse can be accomplished by fencing off a land area from the surrounding landscape. One organization that is well known for this approach is the Nature Conservancy. But, even within this well meaning organization, evidence is growing that fencing tactics do not preserve biodiversity simply because the influences outside of the fenced area do encroach the protected area. Nature prevails.
The biggest problem with fences is that they destroy animal migration corridors such as the annual elk migration. Some fences, for example, cannot be negotiated by the Pronghorn Antelope. Fences also prevent the Buffalo from ranging freely. Unlike cattle, the grazing habits of Bison are considered to be of great benefit to grasslands.
Fencing is also a conservation tactic of national parks and other nature preserves. But yet, some animals such as deer, seem to know when an area is protected from hunters even when there are no fences. Animals seem to congregate in these protected areas. This makes a good argument for no fences and strong preservation programs. Fences, after all, might keep animals seeking protection from getting into the area.
There is one paradox within our system of public lands. On one side, public funds are used to protect and conserve. But, in addition to the inhibiting physical fences within these lands (particularly by BLM and the US Forest Service), there are no natural corridors between one major protected area and another. In the course of acquiring these lands, the government failed to acquire important animal migration corridors between public lands. That said, it is heartening to see many US Forest Service and BLM properties surrounding National Parks. In this sense, continuity is preserved.
When we use the word “fences” in the context of animal migration, we must note that urban sprawl is also a “fence”. As the human population continues to explode, more and more wildlife corridors are fragmented and destroyed by new housing projects. Indeed, human fences of all kinds promote many different types of broken links in Nature.
Recently, a ray of hope and realization came to my attention. The Nature Conservancy now believes that the effect of fences in controlling biodiversity is questionable. They have written a wonderful article about migration corridor preservation. Here they describe an ongoing project that is serving to protect migration corridors. Good for you, guys !!!
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