FREMONT COUNTY — On Monday Jean Bjerke, a nature photographer, Island Park resident, and one of the founders of the Henry’s Fork Wildlife Alliance (HFWA) spoke with Fremont County commissioners LeRoy Miller, Jordon Stoddard and Bill Baxter to answer questions they might have about the newly formed wildlife conservation group.
The HFWA is looking to volunteer time, labor, and other material needed to improve the fencing of farmers who are willing to work with them, deliver newsletters to homes in Fremont County, to spread awareness for wildlife protection, and are currently striving to become a 401c3 so they “can also accept tax deductible contributions,” Jean said.
“There was some concern in the past about wildlife corridors limiting farmer’s ability to use their land,” one of the commissioners stated.
Last year when Bjerke went to the commissioners to discuss creating safe wildlife crossings using overpasses, she and others received extreme heat from those opposed to what they believed infringed on the rights of landowner’s ability to use their land.
“There are people that constantly, constantly allege that we are all outsiders […]” Bjerke said, “Our mission and purpose are way broader than overpasses, even though others have already labeled us with that.”
Bjerke told the commissioners of a deer she found the previous week a mile from her home caught in the wiring of a farmer’s fence. With the help of her neighbor they were able to free the doe, “but she died the next day.”
Many animals come down from the Madison Valley of Montana and a fence cuts right through a migration route through Raynold’s pass.
Hilary Turner, an employee for the Idaho Fish and Game Department, is a roadside carcass surveyor in the Upper Snake Region. She drives U.S. Highway 20 searching for carcasses and collecting data.
From December 2017-October 2018, Turner has documented over 700 unique dead organisms on a 63-mile stretch of US-20 in Southeast Idaho. Because carcasses do not persist long on roadways, Turner said she may be missing up to 14 times the number of small animals that are found, making that more than 9,500 animals killed in one year.
“We would hope that the rancher(s) might be willing to modify the top and bottom strand of barbed wire so that those animals that try to migrate can get through,” Bjerke said, “We would never want to impose on his right to do whatever he wants with his fence.”
Across the west, there are various organizations concerned with the amount of preventable wildlife deaths and The Henry’s Fork Wildlife Alliance has been in contact with these wildlife protection groups to modify fences of willing landowners to let elk and other game pass through land safely.
“There are ranchers that have done that kind of thing and have been very pleased by the results,” Bjerke said.