Vanishing Fencelines On The Farmscape

This morning as I was driving to work I happened to notice a farm field that was huge by local standards…my guess is it was at least 200 acres in size.   A single field…one continuous patch of black dirt.   Oh sure, I had driven by this same field hundreds of time before…but this time I wondered where did all the fencelines go?

Surely when this farm was first settled 150+ years ago it did not have one big field.   More than likely this farm contained some woods, some pasture, and cropland that was nowhere near the size it is today.   The old farm had a certain character and a fingerprint that was left by the original homesteaders…but no more.

Indeed, slowly but ever so surely that character of the farm landscape is disappearing.   And much to the chagrin of sportsmen, each time a fenceline is ripped out to create an even bigger field it affects our success.   The bottom line is a fenceline means habitat for wildlife, but often it means much more.

For instance, take this example: Assume that on either side of a fenceline there is a grassy area of 3 feet.   That makes a total grassy area of a strip 6 feet wide (considering both sides of the fence).   Typically farmers can’t plow right up to a fence…so there is some area for grass and brushy growth to occur.

Okay, now let’s assume this fence is ¼ mile long which is common on most split sections.   Knowing there is 5,280 feet to a mile…this equates out to roughly a fenceline consisting of a distance of 1,320 feet long.   Multiply this distance by a swath of land 6 feet wide and you have 7,920 square feet of fenceline habitat (which amounts to almost 1/5th of an acre).   Doesn’t sound like much, but let me assure you that is some priceless habitat for both game and non-game species alike.

To the farmer, the fenceline means inconvenience.   Bigger equipment and the need to get the fields planted quicker almost necessitates removing the old fencelines to create this convenience.   In fact, removing fencelines of some bygone farming era has become commonplace and likely will continue for the foreseeable future.

Personally, I’m saddened by seeing all the fences go.   Certainly I don’t begrudge the farmer for doing what is necessary for the sake of progress…but that doesn’t mean I care to see it happen before my eyes, either.   While old, unkempt fencelines may continue to benefit wildlife by offering security and sometimes food…they often are viewed as an eyesore by the farmer who strives for ways to “improve” their property by rolling up the barbed wire and removing the old wooden posts.

As a sportsman I use fencelines as a predictor of where animals might travel.   For instance, one of the best fox trapping locations is the basic dirt-hole set which is generally placed in close proximity to a fenceline.   In most cases, animals whether they are deer, fox, raccoon, skunk…you name it…all tend to travel fencelines.   As a trapper hoping to lure a critter into a set…you want the trap placed near where these animals will likely travel.

Likewise, if you’re a deer hunter.   More often than not you will see deer travel certain corridors and if these can be adjacent to a fenceline that is where the deer tend to travel.   Maybe it’s a certain security for the deer in being somewhat hidden by the fence.   I don’t know.   But often when I see a dead deer lying along side the road after being hit by a car when there is no nearby woods…there usually IS a fenceline.   What does that tell you?

Fortunately, fencelines that serve as property line dividers will likely endure…so I don’t think there will be the complete elimination of fencelines on the farmscape.   Still, if you’ve hunted or trapped an area for any amount of time you will see these subtle changes to the land that do not always further our sporting interests.

Maybe it’s time to offer farmers some incentive to keep interior fencelines on their property when they no longer serve an economic purpose (such as dividing property ownership interests).   Perhaps the motivation of some money or tax breaks could offset the inconvenience of having to make a few extra turns in the field come planting or harvest time.   I hate to see our rural countryside continue to lose these all-important land artifacts of the past…and for the sake of wildlife, they hate to see it happen, too.

© 2005 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.