Fences in the High Desert

620,000 miles — enough to stretch around the earth nearly 25 times. That is the estimated number of miles of fencing currently crisscrossing the American West, according to researchers at UC Berkeley, who note that “fence modifications for conservation might be more urgent than currently recognized.”

The impact of fences on wildlife is a top concern for ONDA and pulling barbed wire fence is deeply rooted in ONDA’s 35-year history.

After ONDA successfully pressured the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove cattle from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in 1994, we began leading volunteer trips to remove the now-obsolete barbed wire fences from the refuge because fences can be so detrimental to wildlife safety and migration. When we completed this effort in 2012, volunteers had pulled over 300 miles of barbed wire off the refuge.

In the decade since then, ONDA has broadened our work on fences to include not just removal, but mending, retrofitting, and even building fences. Why might ONDA build fence in some places and remove them in others?

Read on to find out about the types of fence work ONDA volunteers completed in 2022. And, to get involved in future fence projects, subscribe to ONDA’s e-newsletter.


Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

“I connect with Oregon’s high desert through my feet, my eyes, my sense of smell, and all the things I hear. Getting out there is a whole body experience.” Supporting ONDA, Helen says, not only connects her with wild landscapes, but is also a good investment. “I felt like if I gave them $20, they might squeeze $23 out of it.”


Tibetan Monks Visit Sutton Mountain

Tibetan Monks Visit Sutton Mountain


Reid Williams, 2021 Conservationist of the Year

Reid Williams, 2021 Conservationist of the Year

How far are you willing to hike for conservation? Reid Williams offered to put in more than 20 miles a day, by himself, walking and monitoring fence lines on Beatys Butte. And that was on top of weekly visits to the ONDA office, where he is always eager to help with extra projects. In acknowledgment of his willingness and helpful spirit, ONDA named him our 2021 Conservationist of the Year.

Mending fences

Where fences still serve a functional purpose, ONDA works with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other public land managers to repair fences and make them friendlier to wildlife. In a process called “retrofitting,” we will replace some of the barbed wires with smooth wire, which is easier for wildlife like pronghorn antelope to scoot under.

On Beatys Butte, we are making fences friendlier to pronghorn. In 2022, ONDA led two volunteer trips that replaced four miles of barbed wire with smooth wire fencing to improve habitat connectivity for pronghorn and other wildlife.

Check out photos from our 2022 fence retrofit trips to see what this work looks like on the ground.

Building Fences

In places where there is active cattle grazing, it is necessary to build fences to exclude cattle from the sensitive areas where ONDA is restoring native plants and wildlife habitat. This fall, we led two trips to the rugged South Fork Crooked River canyon where volunteers are building a fence to protect a section of the river for future restoration.

Check out photos from our 2022 fence building trips.

Removing Fences

In addition to Hart Mountain, ONDA has also removed all of the barbed wire fences from the cattle-free Steens Mountain Wilderness, as well as many of the fences in the Pine Creek Conservation Area, which is owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. This fall, ONDA volunteers will remove fences at Hay Creek, the site of a successful ONDA stream restoration project.

Want to dive deeper on the topic of fences in the high desert? Check out recent news coverage on ONDA’s fence work: