top of page

Fencing Considerations

wildlife friendly fence at cliftons

Our valleys are crisscrossed with vital fences, serving to control livestock and deter trespass while defining property boundaries and enclosing pastures. However, these fences may pose hazards for wildlife, hindering their movements and access to resources. Tailoring fence design can mitigate wildlife injuries and reduce damage, offering cost-effective solutions that may save money on future repairs.

Wire strands, especially when loose or closely spaced, can easily ensnare and injure animals, particularly in challenging conditions like deep snow or steep slopes. This can be especially difficult for young, pregnant, or winter-stressed animals, affecting their chances of survival. Wildlife, including deer and elk, often bear scars from wire barbs, leading to weakened ligaments, strained legs, infections, and potential fatalities. 

Certain fences, like page wire, can create complete barriers for fawns and calves, separating them from their mothers and the herd, resulting in exposure and dehydration. Page wire may also pose risks to medium-sized animals and livestock, snaring and strangling them. The addition of barbed wire exacerbates these issues, becoming a formidable barrier, particularly for fawns, calves, bighorn sheep, and other animals.

Fencing Best Practices

What kinds of fences create problems for wildlife?

Fences that:

  • are too high to jump or  too low to crawl under

  • have loose or broken wires

  •  have wires spaced too closely together

  • are difficult for running animals or birds to see

  • create a complete movement barrier

fawn caught in barbed wire fence

Wildlife-friendly Fencing Best Practices:

  • Smooth wire or rail for the top and smooth wire on bottom

  • No vertical stays.

  • A top wire or rail 1 metre or less above the ground and a bottom wire or rail at least 18” (46 cm) above the ground;

  • Posts at 5 metre intervals, with gates, drop-downs, or other passages installed where wild animals are known to concentrate

Fences are expensive and time consuming to replace. If replacement of unsuitable fencing is not currently feasible, be sure to keep that fencing in as good of condition as possible. Regularly check and patrol fence lines for breaks and sagging wire, as well as for trapped or tangled animals.  If you come across tangled mammals such as deer or coyotes that are still alive, call the Conservation Service for advice. If there is a trapped, live, bird of prey such as an owl or hawk, call SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre at 250-498-4251.

Fencing Wetland & Riparian Areas

Riparian areas on the the farm and range

Riparian areas serve as natural buffers that protect ranchlands from impacts such as floods and droughts. Intact riparian areas contribute to reduction in erosion,  improved water quality by filtering pollutants, regulating water flow, and maintaining natural hydrological processes. By safeguarding these areas, ranchers not only protect their land from environmental risks but also leverage nature's inherent capacity to enhance overall sustainability, offering long-term benefits for both the ranching operation and the broader ecosystem.

Cattle and other livestock should not have open and unrestricted access to the entire stretch of a creek or full perimeter of a pond/wetland. Livestock hooves cause severe soil disturbance and soil compaction in these areas, which can then affect hydrology, vegetation health, and water absorption. Continual foot traffic and grazing on the vegetation in these important areas will eventually reduce them to bare soil, leaving the banks highly susceptible to erosion, which then leads to sedimentation and lower quality water, as well as destroyed wildlife habitat.  Cattle also prefer to linger around water sources and will subsequently urinate or defecate in or beside the water, leading to nutrient loading, algae blooms, and unhealthy coliform levels.

Retaining Water Access in Riparian Areas

Retaining water access

Fencing off creeks and wetland does not mean losing valuable watering access. Fencing around most of the area and then constructing an adequately sized "nose-in" into the water in appropriate areas allows livestock free access to water while still preventing erosion., maintaining water quality and protecting critical wildlife habitat.

Crush Pad Riparian and Aspen regrowth
horse gaining access to drink from creek at nose-in point of fence

Fencing a creek and repairing vegetation buffers:
A Local Example

A Local Example

One of the biggest challenges facing ranchers today is land stewardship. Maintaining a healthy environment is key to a viable business model. Productive grasslands and grazing pastures, access to water, and a positive relationship between livestock and wildlife are all essential to the bottom line of a modern-day ranching operation. Since 1987, Keith and Marnie Manders have owned Garnet Valley Ranch, a family-run business that raises and markets commercial Angus cattle. For them, caring for the environment is as much a business imperative as it is a personal passion. Five years ago the couple fenced off about 500 feet of Eneas Creek that runs through their 20-acre property located just north of Summerland, B.C. "When we fenced off the creek, it was twofold: We wanted to keep cattle out but we also wanted to put the creek back to its natural state," says Keith. “Last summer, a friend recommended talking to Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship (OSS) who could help carry the project further. The riparian area around the creek was overwrought with thistle, burdock and other invasive plants. After an initial assessment OSS recommended an overhaul of the area that involved clearing out the invasive species and planting several varieties of native plants. "Ranchers are naturally stewards of the land. OSS aims to work with landowners in a way that supports their land use needs while also providing important wildlife habitat," says Alyson Skinner, OSS Executive Director. "We are so pleased to be working with Keith and Marnie and offer support for projects that are important to them. Fencing along the creek still allows for livestock access to water with a nose-in and planting native trees and shrubs will mitigate issues like erosion, flooding and invasive plants which can impact water quality." "It was a true partnership," says Marnie. "We provided the fencing and physical labour and they provided the expertise as well as the trees, plants and shrubs." When it came time to choosing the plants the Manders were happy to leave that decision in the bands of the OSS professionals, but they also wanted to be sure the birds that visited their property year after year would be taken care of. "They really kept our focus in mind. We told them about a couple of blue heron that like to bang out in the creek, as well as a duck family that lives here," -continues Marnie. "One of the birds that they really focused on, and a bird that fascinates us, is the screech owl. And they even thought about placing lower plants near the fence so our horses wouldn't be able to reach over and eat them. They really knew what they were doing." With all hands on deck the Manders and OSS staff planted about 350 plants including Nootka Rose, Snowberry, Red Osier Dogwood, Water Birch, native willow, Choke Cherry and Cottonwood trees. Over the next few years both parties will continue to work together to maintain the area and keep the invasive grass down so it doesn't choke out the new plantings. While preserving the natural integrity of their own property is a priority for the Manders so too is taking care of their leased land. At present they're working on installing a remote water system and well that will use a solar powered pump. They've also built fencing and a corral to collect cattle in order to keep them away from a couple of wetlands on their range. "That's just the modern way of ranching I think," says Keith. "When you see how resilient those wetlands are and how much environmental value is there, it's worth it. It consumes a lot of time and energy but the flip side is, if you’re willing to do the right thing for the environment there's often funding for it." "Sometimes, blocking off access with fencing presents a challenge when it comes to moving the cattle, adds Marnie. "But you have to balance that with the benefits. Keith and I love to ride. We're out in nature all the time, so that's why we do it."

before and after of riparian restoration
Furter Readig Resources

Further Reading

BC Agricultural Fencing Handbook:

Alberta Conservation Association & MULTISAR Wildlife Friendly Fencing:

Wildlife Friendly Fences: Keeping wildlife in mind while constructing or altering fences can help minimize these conflicts, reducing property damage and time spent doing repairs and ensuring safe passage for wildlife.

Cattle and water quality in the salmon river watershed : cattle exclusion fencing and related studies in British Columbia's southern interior:

Range management in BC under the forest and range practices act:

Land Management Guide for Horse Owners and Small-Lot Farmers:

Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment: Landowners Guide to Wildlife Friendly Fencing

Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Resource Library & Toolkit

bottom of page