Opening the Range

ACA’s ongoing pronghorn projects focus on one of the most specialized mammals in the grasslands. It’s a mammal unlike any other…and with that comes its own unique problem.

Pronghorn are long-distance sprinters, hitting speeds up to 95 km/h. That makes it the fastest land animal in North America! Because it evolved on the wide-open plains, pronghorn developed a need for speed—but alas, limited ability to jump.

They have been migrating across North America since there was a continent to migrate across. It’s the last hundred years that have brought miles of barbed-wire fencing, impeding essential travel routes across their range (which includes Alberta, Montana and Saskatchewan). The continued changes over the last 20 years from anthropogenic developments in Alberta may further disrupt the ability of pronghorn to freely migrate and move across the landscape.

Unwilling to jump fences, pronghorn are forced to attempt crawling under the lowest barbed wire—usually a mere 30 centimetres off the ground. The barbs rip their hair and skin, leaving them exposed to Alberta’s ruthless winter. Sometimes they get caught up in the wires, leaving them defenseless against predators or dying from exhaustion.

AFGA, ACA and other groups (including ones across borders) have been chipping away at pronghorn challenges for years, installing wildlife-friendlier fencing, as well taking on other initiatives to help the grasslands ecosystem that the mammals rely on. Plans continue, until at the very least pronghorn can travel unimpeded once again.

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When deciding what fencing enhancements will benefit pronghorn, we also need to consider all the other grassland species. ACA tested three fence modifications specific for pronghorn as well as two modifications for deer. ACA also tested whether the white color and movement of sage-grouse reflectors on a fence impeded the movement of pronghorn. The results of these studies have been published (links below) and are providing alternative wildlife friendly fence modifications for both pronghorn and deer. The new wildlife friendly fencing standard for North America is a double stranded smooth bottom wire set at 45 cm (18 inches) and a top wire height of 102-107 cm (40-42 inches).

Burkholder, E. N., A. F. Jakes, P. F. Jones, M. Hebblewhite, and C. J. Bishop.  2018. To jump or not to jump: mule deer and white-tailed deer fence crossing decisions. 

Jones, P. F., A. F. Jakes, A. M. MacDonald, J. A. Hanlon, D. R. Eacker, B. H. Martin, and M. Hebblewhite.  2020.  Evaluating responses by sympatric ungulates to fence modifications across the Northern Great Plains.

Jones, P. F., A. F. Jakes, D. R. Eacker, B. C. Seward, M. Hebblewhite, and B. H. Martin.  2018. Evaluating responses by pronghorn to fence modifications across the northern Great Plains.

MacDonald, A. M. P. F. Jones, J. A. Hanlon, B. H. Martin, and A. F. Jakes. 2022. How did the deer cross the fence: An evaluation of wildlife-friendlier fence modifications to facilitate deer movement.

Corporate Partners in Conservation

Project Sponsors

  • Bushnell
  • Canadian Forces Base Suffield
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Safari Club International – Northern Alberta Chapter (Hunting Heritage Fund)
  • TD Friends of the Environment Foundation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • University of Montana