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Pulling the "Golden Stake"

Posted by Lace Thornberg at Aug 28, 2017 06:40 PM |
The cow-free portion of the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area (97,229 acres) is now completely free of obsolete barbed wire fence, thanks to the work of ONDA volunteers.
Pulling the "Golden Stake"

Photo: Sage Brown

The 97,229 acre cow-free portion of the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area is now completely free of obsolete barbed wire fence, thanks to the work of ONDA volunteers.

On August 27, after working for three long days, rolling up spiked wire and prying stakes from the ground, a team of ten volunteers removed the last two miles of unneeded fence last week. When they pulled out the final stake, their effort brought to a close more than 12,000 hours of work put in by 342 volunteers over 17 years.

Of course, we had to have a bit of fun with an informal ceremony to mark this momentous occasion.

ONDA Stewardship Director Ben Gordon sent gold spray paint out with the team so that the last stake could be given a quick blush of glamour before being torn out.

“It was the opposite of a ground-breaking ceremony. Instead, it was a ground-restoring,” he said.

Volunteers - Steens last fence pull
Volunteers celebrate making 90,000+ acres of Steens Mountain Wilderness fence-free.
Photo: Sage Brown

Barbed wire fence, found throughout public lands in Oregon, poses hazards for wildlife and disrupts connectivity, making it harder for species to move from one crucial piece of habitat to another. Birds can be snagged by it; pronghorn antelope injure themselves when attempting to crawl under it. Sage-grouse are particularly prone to colliding with fences as they take flight and fence posts serve as perches for their predators, so removing fences immediately benefits this threatened species.

Craig Terry, of Hood River, has volunteered on Steens Mountain with ONDA since 2008, was able to witness the impact of his work to improve this important wildlife corridor on one special September day. “While we worked, a pair of pronghorns came up to the fence, and turned around because they can't jump the fence,” he said, “The next day, after we had removed that section, we saw the same pair cross through. Without our work, they wouldn't be able to move freely across the landscape."

Many of our volunteers cherish personal connections to Steens, and the volunteers on this trip were no exception.

Portland-based member Andrew Soulek first visited Steens Mountain on a November day 28 years earlier with the woman who is now his wife. “As we drove up toward Fish Lake, the first snowflakes landed on our windshield. We huddled in the car drinking Amaretto to wait out the storm.” The snow became too deep and the couple had to spend the night in Burns, but the desire to see Steens stayed lodged in his mind. “I saw ONDA's volunteer opportunities 24 years later, and have always chosen to attend Steens stewardship trips."

In the 1960s, Clifford Rone of Tigard knew of Steens as the place to hunt deer in southeastern Oregon, but didn’t get a chance to visit until spring of 1976, when there was still snow on the road, but they were able to make the journey. After marveling at the landscape, he was back for Thanksgiving weekend the same year, and then not again until 2007. “A long span of time passed, but I always intended to come back and I started volunteering on Steens projects in 2014 to improve this habitat for the wildlife."

Thomas Wilcox, Wilderness Specialist for the Burns District of the Bureau of Land Management, who has worked closely with ONDA to accomplish this monumental feat, thanked our volunteers for their commitment. “ONDA volunteer crews are responsible for most of the removal work," he said, adding, "With our limited budget and workforce, we would have been hard-pressed to do this important work which has helped BLM preserve the Steens Mountain Wilderness.”

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