Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Factory fences: aliens in the Chilcotin

This is a guest post from Dave Neads who plays a number of roles including those of president of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Conservation Society and member of the BC Ministers Community Advisory Group on Mountain Pine Beetle.


They go on for miles and miles. Evenly spaced alien footprints on an ancient land. Posts neat and straight, all the same height, the spoor of factory fences is appearing everywhere in the Chilcotin Cariboo.

The most recent manifestation of this otherworldly phenomenon is along Highway 20, just up on the flats west of Barr Hill. Beneath the new telephone poles, running in a trench scraped by a cat, the barbed wire fence glistens in the sun, its razor edges there for all to see.

Well, not for all to see. Further west, just outside of Nimpo Lake there is another factory fence. It was built in the mid-nineties, just about a decade ago. The wire is sagging, the poles are leaning, and there are sections where animals have become tangled and torn the wire free of the poles.

In one ten mile stretch you will see dozens and dozens of places where once red flagging tape still exists, wrapped along the top wire. These were put there by Ministry of Environment people when we still had Ministry of Environment people who were employed and actually went out on the land.

The purpose of the ribbons? They marked the top wires that were covered in moose hair or bits of hide where the animal had tried to jump the fence, but for whatever reason, had miscalculated or perhaps been caught in the snow - but the fact is, some of the critter was left behind on that barbed wire.

These ribbons give mute testimony to the failure of barbed wire to be friendly to wildlife.

Yet, here we go again, building miles and miles of barbed wire fence on costly green poles along Highway 20. Why?

Well, we are told, it is cheap to build, easy to maintain and lasts a long time. Look at those nice pretty green posts, full of those nice chemicals, look at the miles of shiny new wire, its cutting edges sparkling in the sunlight. What could be better than that?

Logs, that's what. Traditional log fencing. We have more dead trees than we can handle in the Chilcotin. We have people who need work, including horse loggers and others who are willing to handle fencing contracts. The moose, deer, horses and other animals who get hung up on, cut by and clotheslined with barb wire sure don't think it is a good idea either, all those miles and miles of barb wire on a once safe range.

As to the cost, maintenance, and longevity issues, the fence further west gives lie to that argument. It is a perfect test case. On the west side of the highway stands a log fence and on the east side stands (sort of) a factory fence. Both were built at about the same time.

As you drive along switching your gaze from one to the other, it soon becomes clear that the log fence is actually in better shape than the factory fence. It still stands proud and strong, a testament to the men who built it, to the men who were paid wages with which to buy groceries and feed their local families, using environmentally friendly local materials, which will last twenty to twenty five years before they need to be replaced, before they will become firewood or habitat for insects and other wildlife. And that fence doesn't skin or kill any horses or wildlife.

Contrast the factory fence, sagging and falling over, wire busted and tangled where it has maimed or maybe even killed horses and moose and deer.

When the full cost is considered, not just the narrow bottom line of the project, log fences are the big winners. We don't need factory fences made with chemicals and steel that were produced by processes located in factories thousands of miles away. These factories use non-renewable resources, belch greenhouse gasses into the air and make profit for corporations and their shareholders in distant lands.

We need fences that serve all, we need fences that are esthetically pleasing, environmentally sustainable, provide greater local employment, are wildlife friendly and which are, in the end, the best and cheapest option available. We need log fences, not alien factory monsters marching lockstep across the land.

Dave Neads

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