Impact of Fencing on Wildlife: New Study Shows it Plays a Larger Role Than Scientists Originally Thought

by Emily Morgan

The University of California at Berkeley’s new study has revealed that fencing may have a much more significant effect on wildlife.

“Fencing has been on the landscape for really a long time, but it’s actually also missing from the discussion of a lot of ecologists and conservationists, even when we think about human impact on on the globe, people talk about roads, people talk about urban [areas], but fencing has been on the landscape for so long that people kind of take it as a part of the landscape and kind of become in that way invisible, take it for granted,” said lead author Wenjing Xu.

Xu, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, spent her research compiling fencing location data from places like the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She discovered that the length of Wyoming’s fences is about 3,728 miles, enough to cover the U.S.-Mexico border twice.

The Impact Of Fencing On Wildlife

“That’s a very striking amount of fences there, Xu said. “We also know that modifying fences and make them more wildlife-friendly is actually very costly.”

Her team is currently working on software that will help officials analyze data to identify fences and other barriers that might obstruct animals from migrating.

The software can also classify the ways animals respond when they encounter a fence: some may leap whiles others crawl. The software could help identify specific barriers that may be causing the most issues for wildlife.

“Sometimes, when the fencing is really old and it’s served a purpose in the past, but right now, it’s no longer being used. So these fences are dangling and not really tight, and that kind of Fencing is actually very bad for wildlife. And also, it’s not really serving the purpose for landowners.”

Xu hopes the study will help other researchers and scientists “better understand the ecological impact” of fencing.