Point Reyes National Seashore; Fencing is Too High and Harming Wildlife

The photo below shows a bull elk failing to clear a barbed wire fence at Point Reyes.  The fence is on the west side of the Drakes Beach Road shortly after turning onto the road.  My friend Daniel Dietrich took this photo, and the two others  below, at sunrise a couple of days ago.  The bull’s left rear leg has been snagged by the upper wire and possibly the second wire.  Without a photo from the other side it’s not possible to tell if its right rear leg is snagged.

Photo of elk caught in too-tall fence.

Elk Caught in Too-tall Fence

Two months ago I wrote about the fact that the fencing at Point Reyes National Seashore is dangerous to wildlife.  In the article I discussed the fencing guidelines that the fish and wildlife departments of several western states recommend to private property landowners who have elk and other game animals on their land.  They recommend that fences be no higher than 40 inches (or 42″ at the very most) and that there be at least 12 (preferably 14) inches clearance between the top two wires.  I also discussed the fencing standards used by BLM for cattle and sheep grazing on the Nation’s public lands.  BLM’s height standard is only 38 inches, probably because, unlike the state fish and wildlife agencies, BLM owns the land and is therefore free to impose the height standard it feels is best for wildlife.  Like the state wildlife agencies, BLM requires that there be 12 inches clearance between the two top wires.   I measured 20 fences at the Seashore for that article, including this fence line, and none met the fish and wildlife guidelines and/or BLM standards.  The park has fence standards for its own fencing.  Incredibly, their fence standards require that fences be 48 inches tall and that there be only 9 inches clearance between the top two wires.  For these reasons, and others discussed in my blog two months ago, the park’s standards are about as unfriendly to wildlife as you can get.  I find this hard to understand given that the Park Service’s primary statutory duty is to preserve and protect the natural resources of the parks, including the wildlife.  Click here to read that article.

Photo of elk falling.

Bull elk drops to elbows after snagging too-tall fence.

Snagging the wire(s) has caused the bull to fall on his elbows.  I don’t know if he suffered injuries to his front or rear legs.  Barbs can inflict a lot of damage.  I have heard reports of other elk in the area with injuries to their hind legs.  What usually happens when a deer or elk can’t clear the top wire is that its hind legs get caught between the top wire and the second wire and the animal is trapped and held by the two wires.  This is called “scissoring.”  In this case the fence post was weak (probably rotten) and broke.  For a photo of a deer which has become scissored, click the link above.

Photo of elk clearing fence.

The following bull clears the fence.

Here is a photo of a following bull that cleared the top wire.  Note the fence post that appears to have broken at about ground level.

The Park Service should do something about the fencing and do it before more animals are injured or die.  Until it does, it seems to me it is ignoring its Organic Act and the Point Reyes National Seashore statute which require it to preserve and protect wildlife.  The fencing it builds and the fencing its ranchers build are not preserving and protecting wildlife; they are harming wildlife.



About Jim Coda

I am a nature photographer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I specialize in photos of birds, mammals, and landscapes.
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10 Responses to Point Reyes National Seashore; Fencing is Too High and Harming Wildlife

  1. John Wall says:

    Here it is March 2015 and the bad fencing remains. I just watched a couple of elk jump a fence near the Drake’s Beach turnoff last week. Two made it, though one of them continued on his way with his mouth open for quite a long time. A third, smaller elk did not attempt the jump and trotted back the way he came when his companions continued without him.

    • Jim Coda says:

      There will never be any wildlife-friendly fencing where you describe. I attended a meeting in early February between park management and some environmental organizations. During the meeting, the park said it had already decided that it will not use wildlife-friendly fencing along any park roads. Further, wildlife-friendly fencing won’t be used for interior fencing unless and until that fencing is no longer repairable and therefore must be replaced. Needless to say, I was surprised by this lack of concern by the Park Service about wildlife. Elk are constantly breaking the too-tall fencing along Drakes Beach Road and every time one hits the top wire there is the risk of injury to the elk.

      I learned something else recently about the park’s wildlife management policy. As you may know, the park is considering ending the policy that ranching in the park is limited to dairy and beef cattle. Thus, ranchers could raise pigs, sheep, goats, chickens etc. if the park decides to allow such uses in the ranch management plan. Actually, there is already a limited version of that in the few permits and leases I’ve looked at. They contain this clause: “Up to 10 Animal Units of livestock other than cattle for personal and/or non-commercial use are also authorized.” I’ve seen sheep, goats and chickens in the park. Lambs, kids and chickens are attractive prey for coyotes (and other predators). The more the park allows such small domestic animals, the more pressure there will be to do something about coyotes and other such animals that would prey on those animals. You might think there is no chance the Park Service would do anything to control predators for ranchers in a national park. However, there is already language in the leases and permits I’ve looked at to disabuse you of that assumption.

      While there is language in the leases and permits to the effect that the ranchers shouldn’t do anything that “purposely causes harm or destroys wildlife,” that language is followed by a sentence that says the park might play that role for them. The language is as follows: “On a case by case basis, [NPS] will evaluate incidences of depredation and choose a course of action. The nature of the course of action taken, if any, will be determined by the wildlife species, the extent and frequency of the damage and park-wide management objectives.” So, if a coyote kills a lamb and the rancher demands that the offending coyote be destroyed, the park would have to evaluate the incident and make a decision. The park can’t simply tell the rancher that that is something the rancher has to accept in operating in a national park. The Park Service has closed that door by the quoted sentence.

      At the February meeting, the park was also asked if its proposal to get rid of some or all the elk in the pastoral zone is because the elk are causing overgrazing or because the ranchers just don’t want the elk there. The park replied that it is not a question of whether there is overgrazing. The ranchers simply don’t want the elk there.

  2. Willard Hill says:

    I am disturbed about this situation too from reading your posts about it, but I think you have hit the nail on the head with your comment. “I’m not surprised anymore. Just disappointed.” That pretty well sums up my thoughts about this and the collaring of the whitetails in Shenandoah National Park which I have written about. I am truly disappointed that the NPS goes along with this type of thing.

  3. Good summary, Jim. You have found something that should be a concern for the park, visitors and ranchers alike. We all share this beautiful place, and I hope we can move forward with what is in the best interest of preserving this land and its animals.

  4. John Wall says:

    I’m surprised the Park Service has let this slide for so long.

  5. Linda says:

    Just unbelievable how unwilling people are to live alongside wildlife. Hopefully these problems do get resolved before more innocent animals have to die or get injured.

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