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Notes from the valley landscape: Big fences
Kim Bock

My property has been inundated by more and more deer during the last couple of years, so much so that I am contemplating action I have long avoided. It appears that I need to add at least two feet of fencing along the top of my four-foot-tall yard fence to keep the high jumpers out. Different pods of does and bucks are damaging too many young trees and flowering shrubs, as well as making the dogs go crazy in the dark of night.

In 30 years at my El Jebel place, there has always been wildlife passing through. Occasional elk, bear, turkey and more than the occasional deer have been seen. Lately, the numbers are way up. The change started to happen when CDOT erected the tall fencing along most of the Highway 82 right-of-way a few years ago. It is a rare sight now to see carcasses along the shoulder, which was the intended outcome of the project. Human and animal lives are being saved on the highway. But the migration routes of the animals have been shut off, and now these populations are trapped behind their respective sides of the fence. This causes changes in feeding, watering and reproductive activities as cross-valley movement has stopped.

Deer herds are more concentrated and likely to invade smaller territories. Predators also are forced to hunt in atypical places. Two years ago, my neighbor lost goats and chickens to a large bear that was promptly killed for doing so. The wildlife specialists probably anticipated these changes, but it has been interesting for a layperson (me) to see these shifts happen in real time. So, this brings me to a larger discussion of fences.

From an environmental perspective, the concept of the southern border “wall” (fence, slats, whatever) disturbs me greatly. Having personally been to the rough and magnificent southern border in Big Bend National Park decades ago, the thought of transecting these wild places is abhorrent. There are broad rivers and huge canyons that would be nearly impossible to physically wall off. (Never underestimate civil engineers with a big budget however.) Fragile desert soils and flora and fauna would be decimated far and wide by bulldozers and trucks. Environments cherished by residents and tribal lands would be wrecked for generations.

The mammals, reptiles and insects of untold shapes and sizes will suffer most greatly. The desert landscape and its occupants are woven into a delicate web of existence. Do you remember reading the interpretive signs at Arches National Park, Colorado National Monument or many other desert locations? Shallow layers of biological soil crusts (microphytic crusts) take thousands of years to form and provide critical ecosystem services. These soils can be immediately destroyed by human foot traffic, let alone heavy machinery.

Endangered (and not endangered) animal and plant species in the borderlands are especially at risk. Plants depend on precise water needs. Four-legged critters need large swaths of open territory for finding food, shelter and mates, and for raising young. Any man-made barriers will cause permanent changes and harm to the plants and animals who cannot speak for themselves.

Water flow, as little as there might be in the desert, is invaluable to the plants and animals who live in this most marginal of environments. Deserts are prone to flash flooding with even small amounts of precipitation. If water must pass through an area, don’t you need culverts to allow for this? Wouldn’t large culverts and overpasses eliminate the “protection” from the marauding mobs of human intruders? I cannot imagine the amount of damage to arroyos and alluvial fans if any sort of “wall” rips through them.

I wish we humans (some of us anyway) would quit trying so hard to stop a problem that is more fictional than real. What is truly real is how poorly we treat our environment and the pressures our human existence places on the gentle earth we share.

Now, if I can just keep Bambi from eating my new fruit trees.

Kim Bock has studied landscape architecture, worked in city planning, and has been a practicing arborist for 20 years. Living in the El Jebel area since 1989, she has been an active member and officer in the Pardon My Garden Club and spent 19 years as a member and chair of the Roaring Fork Planning Commission. Besides flower and vegetable gardening at her home, she loves hiking with her dogs and husband. Bock’s column appears monthly in the RFWJ.