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pronghorn emancipation

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The pronghorn antelope is the fastest land mammal in North America—second in the world to the cheetah. It can attain speeds of over 86 kilometres per hour. arb's interest in the pronghorn originated with the awareness of the negative effects that barriers, particularly barbed wire, have on its traditional migration pattern from the midwestern United States into the prairie region of eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan. Standing at about a metre high at the shoulders, pronghorns lack the ability to jump fences. Or, at least, that's what most of them think. The pronghorn's way to navigate fences is to scoot underneath the bottom strand of wire. The barbs on the wire can inflict serious injuries to the pronghorn's back, tearing out fur and ripping the skin, sometimes resulting in fatal injuries from infected wounds.

Several projects have been initiated by conservation groups in the US and in Canada to replace the bottom strand of barbed wire on boundary fencing with double-strand smooth wire, strung 18 inches from the ground. This simple and elegant solution is helping the pronghorn to safely pass under fences on their traditional migration routes, which have been used for centuries if not millennia. Meanwhile, other barriers—roads, gas and oil drilling sites, residential and industrial developments—continue to threaten the existence of the pronghorn.

We'd heard about the problems the pronghorns were having navigating all of the barbed wire fences on their migration route through southern Alberta. We'd also heard of the brilliant remedy. But what we had to find out was how to do something about it. That's when Alberta Fish and Game Association's (afga) pronghorn corridor project caught arb's attention. Starting on the weekend of July 10, 2010 a group of arbians met up with afga at the Pearson ranch near Orion (pop.4) after setting up a base camp at Cypress Hills about an hour northeast of the worksite.

The following morning we discovered that the main road from Cypress Hills was washed out from the June rainstorm. The group found detour routes on gravel range roads that afforded breathtaking views of lush coulees, a reservoir and wildlife sightings. We arrived at the designated meeting place late to find the afga crew waiting graciously for us. The weekend's objective was to staple in a previously-strung smooth wire strand at 18 inches from ground and to re-space and fasten the top three barbed wire strands on four miles of fencing that were impeding pronghorn movements north to south and east to west. Required tools included fencing pliers, good hammers and tool belts or aprons to hold new and old fence staples. Other crew members had ATV's to move supplies along the fence row in two separate locations on the Pearson ranch over the two days. The crews split up into functional groups and the work began. Mercifully, the weather was mostly overcast and breezy, helping to keep the overabundant swarms of mosquitoes at bay. The arb crew quickly learned the rhythm of the work—remove staples, measuring stick, lift wire, staple, measure, lift, staple…and on it went, the group leapfrogging each other in mild competition. We were also able to admire all the indigenous plants—cactus in bloom with intense orange-yellow flower clusters, pesky but fragrant sagebrush, and wild grasses. We also noted the different types of barbed wire and the particular characteristics of wire tension and post weathering as we worked. Once done for the day the arbians and a number of afga members retired to the tavern at Manyberries (pop.84 unverified). On Sunday an aide-de-camp stumbled upon a rattlesnake while working along a north to south fence line. This sighting provided an interesting diversion for the work party near the end of a long but satisfying weekend before we began our 5 hour journey back to the city.

Our second scheduled event took place on August 14, 2010 on the Krippl ranch, near Foremost (pop.500+) about 50 km east and then south on range road 75. Base camp was set up at Foremost campground, which proved to be a soggy experience with heavy rain on Friday the thirteenth. The last adventure of the season was October 2–3 at Onefour (pop. they won't tell us). Onefour is the site of the federal government research sub-station. Our mettle was tested on these days as we were introduced to something new—page wire. While being one of the greatest barriers to the pronghorn movement it proved to be ours as well. Gees it was tough stuff. Not only because portions were buried and had to be dug out but also because it had to be hand rolled.

The area of the country that our pronghorn adventures took place is very special. The landscape and it's wild inhabitants are indelible on ones spirit. They are truly the bee's knees. We also visited some unique and awe inspiring locations on our way to and from the work sites. One of the most notable was our visit to the Etzikom Museum/The Canadian National Historic Windmill Centre (Etzikom pop.321) located just south of the red coat trail on #885. “It wasn't the gun that won the west, it was the windmill”. And then there was Orion. It's hard to know what to say about Orion—ya jus gotta go.