GREAT FALLS – A deadly barbed-wire fence that scores of antelope encountered each year west of Nashua was removed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks last week, giving the animals a better chance of surviving annual migrations.
The project was part of stepped-up efforts to remove old fencing in locations in northeastern Montana that a researcher has identified as barriers to pronghorn migrations, said Drew Henry, an FWP wildlife biologist in Glasgow.
“There’s a lot of those pinch points from north Valley County to Canada,” Henry said.
Nashua, 285 miles northeast of Great Falls, is located 14 miles east of Glasgow and 11 miles north of Fort Peck on Highway 2.
The old woven-wire and barbed-wire fencing that was removed was strung for about a mile along U.S. Highway 2.
It was a potential barrier for pronghorn and other wildlife trying to cross the busy road and an adjacent set of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train tracks, according to FWP.
“Every fall there’s antelope stacked up around that area on each side of the highway,” FWP spokesman Ron Selden said. “It’s a choke point. They’re just stuck there. And they get scared trying to cross the highway.”
Selden said he was amazed at the number of bones and skulls, of all shapes and sizes, that littered both sides of the old fence, the remains of antelope that didn’t make it to the other side.
Even with the fence removed, the stretch remains a difficult crossing for the fastest land mammals in North America, which prefer to go under fences rather than jump over them. That’s not possible with sheep-style fencing that has heavy-gauge wire panels right to the ground.
“They still get hit by trains and cars,” Selden said. “At least it should remove some of the stress.”
The property where the old fencing was removed is owned by Valley County, Jim Strodtbeck and Jason Sauer, who gave their permission to proceed with the project.
Nearly 7,000 feet of woven wire and about 3,000 feet of four-strand barbed wire fence and numerous metal posts were taken down and hauled away. The wire and posts will be recycled.
“It’s the type of project that benefits wildlife right from the start and for years to come,” Henry said.
Recent research conducted by Andrew Jakes of the University of Calgary, in cooperation with FWP, shows that pronghorn are prone to being delayed in specific locations – usually by fence lines – during their migration, Henry said.
Jakes is studying pronghorn migrations between northern Montana and Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Henry said FWP biologists want to work on more fence removal projects. They always knew about pronghorn migrations but Jakes’ work is producing hard data showing how much pronghorn are being delayed at specific locations.