By Richard Knight and Heather Dannahower Writers on the beach

“Oh, give me a house where the bison roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where one rarely hears a discouraging word
And the sky is not cloudy all day “

Sad to say, but that wide-open house on the scale that Bing Crosby sings in Brewster Higley’s “Home on the Range” has steadily dwindled over the decades as the western landscape has been sliced ​​into slices. and diced by roads and barbed wire. fences.

Today, only an extremely knowledgeable deer or antelope (or elk, moose, or bighorn sheep) can roam freely on private and public lands. Wild ungulates may well have co-evolved with carnivores at the top of the food chain, but they are overwhelmed by the “metallic carnivores” that roam the highways. They also have little defense against barb snag attacks on fences.

What to do about it? As with every technology we invent, humans can learn to adapt to their drawbacks. The are ways to make things safer for wildlife.

To this end, Colorado State University and the Front Range Community College at Fort Collin have enlisted some of their students – with financial support from Colorado Parks and Wildlife – to break down barriers and make road and fence crossings safer for deer, elk and antelopes from Roberts Ranch. in Larimer County, Colorado. Zach Thode, ranch manager, championed the efforts on the 17,000-acre Roberts Ranch. The working ranch sits in a conservation easement, and Thode says he takes the conversation seriously in his job.

The new gates result in less wildlife chaos on the highways and fewer cases of animals hanging on barbed wire, where they die painfully.

A team works to install a wild fence on Roberts Ranch in Colorado. PHOTO BY RICHARD KNIGHT

Removing barbed wire barriers is remarkably simple: install posts 4 feet above the ground and 17 inches apart. Walla! Cows, horses and mules are too wide to pass, but ungulates pass easily. Then dismantle the barriers and count the comings and goings on a surveillance camera.

An alternative model built by Colorado State University and Front Range and Front Range Community College places a log horizontally on vertical supports, 40 inches above the ground. This allows antelopes to pass underneath safely while deer and elk can easily jump over them. The cows are stranded because they have too much mass to make the jump.

What is amazing is that the patches are inexpensive, cost only $ 100 in materials, and the students and their teachers who do the work come away enriched with the knowledge that they have increased the ability of wild animals to move safely.

Since it started with lyrics about freedom, here’s a fitting conclusion to this modest effort to make the West safer for wildlife, written by Cole Porter:

“Oh, give me some land, a lot of land under a starry sky above,
Don’t lock me in.
Let me roll through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t lock me in.
Let me be alone in the evening breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the poplars,
Send me forever but I ask you please,
Don’t lock me in.

Richard Knight ([email protected]) and Heather Dannahower ([email protected]) contribute to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit service that seeks to spark a lively conversation about the West. Knight is professor of wildlife conservation at Colorado State University and Dannahower is professor of natural resources at Front Range Community College.