Good fences make dead wildlife

First, we need to settle a matter for Robert Frost, who must spin in his grave every time someone assumes “good fences make good neighbors.” The problem with that assumption is profiled in the latest issue of Conservation Magazine:
People construct fences, sometimes across whole continents, on the poetic assumption that good fences make good neighbors. Unfortunately, for wildlife, gated communities are rarely tranquil.”
In Frost’s “The Mending Wall,” where that phrase attained its immortality, the poetic aim is to unseat the dim assumption that “good fences make good neighbors.” Watch, while the poem’s narrator mends a stone wall, his neighbor on the opposite side:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
…. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Something there is that does not love a wall, Frost notices, something that’s always pulling them down, and it’s not elves exactly. Frost doesn’t name it, but it’s not hard to figure out. And in Conservation Magazine, Douglas Fox documents the offence, as Frost would spell it, committed by walls and fences the world over, with particular attention to their effect on elephants in South Africa:
These fences stand as the ultimate response to irreconcilable conflicts. They transform the physiology of landscapes. They block not only the movement of cattle, diseases, and invasive species, but also the dispersal of plants, the flow of genes, and the millennia-old migrations of animals. We humans have changed our world in many ways, but among the most-profound of those changes stand our fences.
The story reminded me immediately of Roy van de Hoek, a Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist in the Carrizo Plain, California’s last vast expanse of prairie, in the early 1990s. Frustrated by the BLM’s compromises with ranchers, who erect fences on public land, van de Hoek went rogue and began working in the interest of a higher agency, the one that does not love a wall. Among his actions, he began snipping through barbed-wire fences.
The Carrizo Plain is home to herds of reintroduced pronghorn antelope, who streak down from the hills and sprint across the grasslands unless or until they slam into a barbed wire fence. When antelope see the fences, they slow to crawl under them–they don’t hurdle them as deer do. Coyote have learned to herd antelope toward fences and catch them at that vulnerable moment.
Roy was caught, too, arrested, and prosecuted by the federal government. I wrote about the case for New Times, and he was profiled by Mother Jones as a Hellraiser of the Month. In 1997, a judge sentenced him to four days in jail and six months probation, but it didn’t slow him down much. In 2006 he was back in court for taking it upon himself to remove invasive plants from California’s Playa del Rey Lagoon. A wiser judge in that case sentenced Roy to lead parks officials on two field trips of the lagoon.
Ranchers and federal bureaus may love a wall, but something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that’s always pulling them down. Viva that revolution.

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