En Garde! Protecting Riparian Zones

by Francisco Samayoa, Outreach Assistant

One of the ways we can protect our streambanks and keep our water clean is by fencing off riparian areas to keep livestock out of creeks and rivers. However, fences can pose barriers to wildlife, who may injure themselves or damage the fence when attempting to cross, which can be costly to land stewards. Wildlife-friendly exclusion fencing is a great way for landowners to minimize the effects their livestock have on our watershed, protecting important habitat and safeguarding water quality downstream, while at the same time allowing our native wildlife to cross these barriers with ease.

  Here is what a wildlife-friendly fence looks like: smooth top & bottom wires, with a raised bottom and lower top wire. Image:  MULTISAR

Here is what a wildlife-friendly fence looks like: smooth top & bottom wires, with a raised bottom and lower top wire. Image: MULTISAR

In contrast to a conventional barbed-wire fence, the top strand of a wildlife-friendly fence has been replaced with a smooth wire. The top of a wildlife-friendly fence is also lower (40 inches), which allows ungulates to step or jump over the fence with ease. PVC piping is often attached to the top wire, making it more visible for birds who are crossing, as many birds cannot see the wires if they are not marked. The bottom strand is also switched out with smooth wire and raised 18” above the ground, allowing smaller and younger ungulates to crawl under without getting caught. Posts are spaced no further than 5 metres apart, making the fence more visible to wildlife.

  Our Outreach Assistants helped install wildlife-friendly fence to keep cattle out of the creek but still allow wildlife to get over and under.

Our Outreach Assistants helped install wildlife-friendly fence to keep cattle out of the creek but still allow wildlife to get over and under.

At the end of August, we teamed up with SALTS (Southern  Alberta Land Trust Society) to put up wildlife-friendly riparian fencing on one of their conservation easements in the headwaters. We helped ranchers install around 2 miles of riparian fencing to keep their livestock from reaching the river and destroying the banks. It also allows the safe crossing of elk and other ungulates (adults step or jump over, while young calves can crawl under the fence).

Wildlife Fencing

Video: Rancher Sophie LaRocque explains what a wildlife-friendly exclusion fence is all about.

Through the Watershed Legacy Program, the OWC has supported the installation of 35 km of riparian fencing, keeping 6795 cows and 300 sheep out of water bodies and riparian areas without restricting access for ungulates. If you would like more information on our Watershed Legacy Program, please click here.