Students get involved with Don’t Fence Me In campaign

The standing fence posts remain in the pronghorns habitat. Photo by Matthew Weigand.

MSU has teamed up with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to bring students together and give back to the community. This initiative, fondly called Don’t Fence Me In, is an effort to modify fencing in order to maintain native pronghorn, sheep and elk populations north of Yellowstone National Park.

English Professor Jill Davis, along with Joe Josephson, Yellowstone Wildlife Fellow for the NPCA, presented the idea to several of Davis’s Writing 101 classes at the beginning of the year. The initiative has volunteer students travel to target locations near Yellowstone and Paradise Valley where they work closely with resource professionals as they build wildlife-friendly fencing.

Josephson, head of the fencing project, spoke in Davis’s classes about the challenges wild animals face in jumping fences built to restrain them. Fencing, explained Josephson, has caused a decrease in the pronghorn population by preventing this species from safely reaching traditional winter rangelands.

After his classroom visit, about 30 students volunteered for the project. On Oct. 5 and 6, students faced the cool weather and helped area ranchers and volunteers of the Don’t Fence Me In project remove old fencing and replace it with smooth wire and drop-down fencing.

Zach Murray, a major in fish and wildlife management and a volunteer with the project, became interested in the opportunity based on the project’s mission. He said he volunteered with the goal of making a difference, and learned something along the way.

“The project definitely showed me just how many important things get overlooked,” Murray said. “Simple things such as fences can have large impacts on the environment.”

Techniques for replacing the old fencing include using higher-visibility materials, three-stranded wire, and jack-leg fencing, in which wooden rails are dropped or criss-crossed to allow animals to jump over the barrier. These options allow wildlife access to migration paths, while still providing a functional fence line.

Josephson expressed satisfaction with the group’s labors. “Working with these MSU students and seeing our success on the ground motivates me to continue my work to help inspire the next generation of conservationists,” Josephson said.

Nature Valley, a granola bar company, provides funding for this preservation project. For the third consecutive year, this company has partnered with the NPCA to support restoration projects related to America’s national parks, including Yellowstone.

Davis explained that students’ participation in the fencing project has immediately reaped rewards. It is a “win-win community project where the students get out and work physically…while discovering connections to the land and wildlife in the valley,” she said.

During the work project, students discussed creating a club on campus that supports this cause. Mariah Witt, a freshman in nursing and project volunteer, expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

“We want to inspire students to get involved and get outside,” Witt said.

Davis, who finds service learning projects for her classes every year, presented the project to her classes after volunteering in an earlier fence modification mission. Some other projects she has offered to students include the Homeless Connect Interview project, Students for Danforth Park, The Resiliency Project, T-shirts for Haiti, and Tuesdays with Morrie, a program that connects students with senior citizens in the valley.

Last weekend, Davis’s classes worked with Friends of Hyalite and the Forest Service, doing a major clean-up of Hyalite Reservoir.

These projects “help students connect with the community,” Davis said. “[Students] see that they have a place here — their talents and skills are needed.”