EXCLUSIONARY DEER FENCING





THE HISTORY



The Methow Valley has approximately 20,000 mule deer (exact numbers are hard to pin down, but the 2018 DFW report suggests about 47,000 mule deer in the East Slopes of the Cascade Management area) and the Methow Valley is about 1/3 of the region.


Whitetail deer numbers are harder to pin down although they are also found in the region. The mule deer are more attracted to the open areas (meadows, pastures and the like) and the whitetail are more attracted to the woodlands.


Typically deer seen on the Ranch are mule deer - although every once in a while a group of whitetail will move through. Mule deer are iconic, part of the economic stability of the region (hunting, basically) and delightful to watch. In particular, their pronking (stotting) is just remarkable to observe.


That being said, they can be very destructive to a recovering ecosystem. They favor fresh young shoots - and these fresh young shoots tend to be of seedling plants. The situation has been aggravated by recent fires, as regions impacted by the Chelan 2014 fire (which stopped less than half a mile from the Ranch) are still recovering.


In the past, we've been reluctant to fence off regions with deer fencing. In addition to the cost (and the negative visual impact) deer fencing further fragments steppe-shrub ecosystems (and these habitats are already being challenged enough by fragmentation).


However, all this being said, we've made the decision to deer fence the 4-acres or so associated with the brome reconstruction area this season. The brome reconstruction area is not presently important grazing for the deer (they don't seem to like brome, even when the plants are young) - BUT the deer just love the native plants that we are trying to establish IN the brome area. Not only are we having trouble keeping individual new plants protected from the deer (particularly larger plants), but native plants that are trying to re-establish in the area are also getting eaten by the deer as well. While it is possible to also protect the native seedlings, the deer tend to get them before they are big enough for us to see them.


This is not a new problem in wildland management. Fencing recovering areas from deer is a established methodology (and really the only one that works well). Hence our decision.





CHOOSING THE FENCE



Mule deer will routinely jump 4' fences. Young mule deer fawns can't (they usually slither in between the lower wires, making one wonder how any fawns survive their first six months). However, even the fawns are jumping 4' fences by the end of summer.


The way that mule deer tuck their rear feet up when jumping can cause them to become hung in fences. The image in the Mule Deer Working Group (MDWG) fact sheet of the deer snagged on the wire fence is an event that we see once or twice a year in the Methow and would REALLY like to avoid.





A mule deer killed by being hung on a 4' fence. This image is from the Mule Deer Working Group - but we see this every year on various fences across the valley.



There is universal agreement that woven wire fence (as opposed to welded wire, barb, individual wire, or electricity) is the right answer for long-term deer fence. It is much more difficult for deer to get hung in woven wire fence than in single wire fences.


In investigating fence heights, we learn that 6-feet is actually the most dangerous height for deer, and 8-feet is much better. 4-feet they know they can jump, 8-feet they know they can't, and 6-feet they aren't sure. While it is generally the case that they won't jump into an enclosed 6' area (like a small fence around a garden) it isn't the fence height that is deterring them - it is the size of the enclosed region. Local wisdom is that larger area enclosures require an 8' fence. (10' is probably even better, but the expense jumps quite a bit above 8').


There is some question of whether the gate also needs to be 8'. The general local consensus is "no", a normal 4' ranch gate is believed to be fine. (As a note added three years after fence construction, this turns out to be correct, no deer has ever jumped the gate, see the video page for some considering the idea and rejecting it). The deer apparently learn that this is an enclosed area with only one way in and they are not at all interested in jumping into an area with only one way out.


While there are local reports of deer getting caught inside a newly fenced area soon after it is built - these seem to be associated with leaving the gate open - the deer get in because they are not familiar with the new fence, and then the deer get frightened and can't figure out how to leave. (As a note added three years after fence construction, this also turns out to be correct, as this incident happened once, see the video page, and it took all morning to get the deer back out.)




FENCE POSTS AND COLOR



T-fencing is the ranch standard - and T-fencing can last 40-50 years, particularly if wood is avoided. There are numerous examples of > 40 year welded wire fences in the Valley that are still fully functional - except for the wooden corner posts. Therefore, we are opting for steel T-posts with steel corner, gate, and support posts.


There are some trade-offs on painting the fence posts, as there are two mutually exclusive goals. The first goal is to minimize the visual impact of the fence. The second goal is to minimize deaths of wildlife running into the fence because they can't see it.


As far as wildlife, we need to consider deer, bear, coyotes,cougars, owls, various raptors, grouse, and songbirds. Of this list, the only animals that seem to be at risk if we choose a more camouflaged fence are the grouse. That being said, local grouse are ruffled and dusky grouse, not sage grouse. (Sage grouse WOULD have trouble with a camouflaged fence (sage grouse are the not sharpest knives in the drawer) - but sage grouse are not found locally).


Some observation of local grouse near the Ranch - in particular, watching a male ruffled grouse fly straight up a Ponderosa Pine and perch about 50' off the ground - tend to suggest the local grouse can deal with an 8' fence. Note also that it is easier to put some sort of visual marker on a completed fence (like sage grouse tags) should some issue arise, than it is to camouflage paint a completed fence.


(As a comment added three years later, there were some initial problems with both quail and grouse. However, after the first year, both species seemed to have learned how to negotiate it. Note that the presence of quail on the property dramatically jumped after the fence was installed, suggesting they are actually taking advance of the fence. (The number of grouse remained unchanged.)


For determining the fence color we painted a number of sample fence posts and placed them along the most visible part of the proposed fence run. We watched the posts during different lighting conditions and determined that the NFS brown color is the best match for a minimum visual impact fence. (This exercise was a bit of a surprise, as we expected the best color to be lighter. That being said, the NFS got their brown color somehow (probably not randomly selected) and it does seem to be a good choice.)





10' T-posts painted with Rodda Ultimate II Cascadia CA066 (Leather). The first 30 or so posts were primed with SmartPrime, but the color contrast (SmartPrime can't be tinted this dark) was too severe. We moved to not priming and kept our fingers crossed that the color would hold without priming. (It should, as we are painting over painted posts).





Here they all are - painted and lined up ready to go!