Written by: Justyna Van Poucke-Choquette, Christopher Reinhart, Ashley McNeill and Cassie Luff
Management Plan: This plan provides details regarding the implementation and maintenance to managing Ontario’s Elk populations by using fencing as a method of keeping them out of pasture lands. With government agencies turning to non-lethal management method for protection of farmer’s crop and pasture lands, methods such as fencing will become increasingly important. While there are multiple options for creating fences, the most effective option is a 3-D fence made of different heights and distances apart. (Johnson et. al., 2014). The fencing option is the most viable because it is a one time installment with slight maintenance of the fence afterwards. The cost of this type of fence is relatively minimal because all it requires is multiple, single wired fences spaced out. However, compared to the cost of not doing anything and letting the Elk continue on their feeding of pastures and stored crops would be exponentially higher and unfeasible for both the farmers and the government. Another viable option for farms that currently have an existing fence could simply add more fences of different heights onto the original. Ideally a height of 6 to 8 feet will keep Elk out of the pastures, however by having multiple heights and distances it becomes harder for the Elk to jump over and navigate due to their poor depth perception. Farmers could even add an electrical component onto the 3-D fences to make them that much more effective. However, in Alberta, the success rate of the simple single wired multi fence method proved to have extremely high success at a rate of 75% effectiveness and therefore the addition of the electrical fence is unnecessary (Blair, 2016; Johnson and Burton, 2015). [JF3] , (Paige, 2015). Once the Elk encounter this fence and try to get around it, they get stuck and tripped up in the fence, eventually getting frustrated and giving up (Knight, 2014; Blair, 2015). Through the introduction of this specifc fence type, optimal foraging will play a key role in persuading the Elk to not use their energy, in attempts to obtain a small quantity of food. By introducing a fence around pastures, it will eliminate Elk from being able to move into the pastures and consume the vegetation that is necessary for the survival of livestock. This is crucial because it is the simplest option for a problem that causes farmers massive losses in [JF4] pasture crops as well as stored crops. In a study done by the Peace River Forage Association of British Columbia, they calculated how much it would cost to create 3D fences for different areas including grain bag yard, hay stockyard, winter feeding and swath grazing. The winter feeding grounds and the swath grazing are the more relevant for this specific topic because the concern and problems are due to Elk entering the pasture area. The total construction costs of a 20 acre winter feeding area was $2140 and the total construction costs of a 160 acre swath grazing area was $5700 acres, which breaks down to $1140 per year. The same study also determined that the financial benefits of creating a 3D fence surrounding the swath grazing area would be $30,500 a year, $101 per cow. Comparing the savings, $30,500 to the costs of maintaining the fences each year of $1140, the benefits strongly outweigh the costs. Information gathered from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs deemed that the Haliburton area has a total of 290 hectares of tame or seeded pastures and 1480 hectares for natural land used for pastures. This is a total of 1770 hectares for the Haliburton area, which also has the highest population of Elk in Ontario. This issue of crop destruction from Elk needs to be addressed, stored crops such as hay bales and silage bags, are not covered under the Ontario Crop Insurance Program and therefore cannot be covered by the government thus making the farmers pay for the losses out of their own pocket. Past historical management methods of Elk turned out to be devastating for the population. By the late 1800’s they were completely extirpated from Ontario (Hamr, et. al., 2016). Therefore we need to manage Elk that were recently introduced in a non-lethal way to ensure that this does not happen again.
Potential Challenges and Solutions: One concern with fencing large areas of land is reducing wildlife passage. If animals are not free to move through the property, for example in the case of a migration route, they are much more likely to attempt to breach the fence, and damage to the fence is the likely result. This can also result in the elk getting tangled in the fencing. For this reason, it is recommended that the fences are not built around any area larger than 640 acres (Knight, 2014). By limiting each side of the fence to one and a half kilometers or less, elk will be able to circumvent the fence without problem. Another issue to be considered is that elk may be able to find weak spots in the fencing which can allow them to gain access to the pasture. To prevent this, simply maintaining the fencing will ensure that there are minimal weak spots.
Legal Factors: The use of fencing is a non-lethal management method, and therefore does not require any type of legal permits of any source. While farmers still need to apply for permits from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to remove Elk by lethal means from their farms, they are not listed as any type of species at risk. The process of this application process can be long and challenging [JF8] [S9] and therefore the easiest methods would be to create a fence system that would eliminate the ability for Elk to enter into pastures. The only potential for this to require a type of permit is if the fence crosses a stream and somehow hinders the flow or has a post placed into the river itself. This could potentially require permits from the municipal level, and provincial level, as well as receiving permits [JF10] from the local Conservation Authority. The federal fisheries act is a long and powerful piece of legislation used to protect fish and fish habitats, and in the case of creating the fences this act will be taken into account. The provincial equivalent are the Fish Protection Act and the Riparian Areas Regulations. All of which provide protection for rivers and the riparian zones. These acts and regulations are often enforced by the county, township, etc. This could entail inspection and studies to be done to determine if the creation of the fence would cause any significant harm to the river or riparian ecosystem. With all that said, it would be very easy to avoid placing any permanent structure into the river system by simple placing them on either bank and allowing the fence to stretch to either post.
Conclusion: The fence-extension is a viable option because it’s relatively low-cost to implement, depending on the circumstances. Since the Elk can jump 6-feet, they typically won’t do so just to get to an area to graze. The 3-D fencing is also a viable option, and can be very cost-effective. The options of installing a fence extension or a 3-D fence is humane and doesn’t require any Elk to get injured or killed for the benefit of humans. Because of this, there are no permits required to install these types of fences.
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