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Don't Fence Me Out

Creating safe passages for wildlife at Oregon horse sanctuary

Kind News magazine, June/July 2014

Ashley Barron

Duchess Sanctuary in Oakland, Oregon, operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States, is home to nearly 200 horses rescued from abuse, neglect and slaughter.

The horses roam the 1,120 acres of the sanctuary’s rolling pastures. Fencing keeps the horses safely on the property—and the neighbor’s curious goats out. But it soon became clear that the fencing also caused problems for wildlife.

Small animals were unable to pass through the property, while deer trying to jump the fence were at risk of becoming entangled in the wire. “I would see rabbits, opossums, raccoons—even skunks—looking for a way to get through the fence,” says ranch manager Jennifer Kunz.

The fences had become roadblocks to wild animals’ natural behaviors. They were preventing the animals from getting where they needed to go: to find food and water, to nest or to escape a predator. “A fence can become a death trap for an animal,” says Dave Pauli, wildlife specialist for The HSUS. “In the wild, there are no seconds to spare when running from a predator.”

Removing roadblocks

The HSUS's Wildlife Innovations and Response Team was called on to find a solution. The team studied the land to identify the safest and best places to help wildlife pass under, over or through the fence.

  • Ashley Barron

Once the plan was developed, the team went to work. They modified the fence in several places so deer could easily jump over it without getting their hooves caught in the wire. Where that wasn’t possible, they constructed places where deer, foxes, coyotes and other wildlife—but not horses—could pass through the fence.

In other areas, the team cleared brush and dug out “crawlunders” for turtles, rabbits, skunks and other small animals to use.

Since the sanctuary is also a habitat for animals like bears and cougars, the team had to come up with a solution for them too. Using trees that had blown down, they created a bridge that animals could climb across to get to the other side of the fence. “It will hold the biggest black bear that Oregon has to offer,” says Pauli, who helped design and build the safe passageways.

Balancing act

Since the work was completed, plenty of animal tracks show that local wildlife have found and are using the new innovations. A wildlife camera on the property even caught a photo of a bear heading toward the bridge!

“It’s pretty awesome that we can balance caring for the horses with protecting and respecting wildlife,” says Kunz.

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