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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Use livestock fences that are permeable to wildlife Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • Two studies evaluated the effects on target mammals of using livestock fences that are permeable to wildlife. Both studies were in the USA.




  • Use (2 studies): A study in the USA found that wild ungulates crossed a triangular cross-section fence with varying success rates. A replicated, controlled study in the USA found that fences with a lowered top wire were crossed more by elk than were conventional fences.

Supporting evidence from individual studies


A study in 1988–1989 of shrubland and grassland along a national park boundary in Montana, USA (Scott 1992) found that wild ungulates crossed a fence with a triangular cross-section (buck-and-pole fence) with varying success rates. Fence crossing success rates (away from gates) were mule deer Odocoileus hemionus: 85% of fence approaches, pronghorn Antilocapra americana: 72%, bison Bison bison: 46%, elk Cervus canadensis: 17%. Most bison crossings were achieved by damaging the fence. Other animals were generally able to pass through or below it. Some animals that did not cross the fence walked along until they found an open gate. The fence was 3.8 km long, had a width at the bottom of 165–175 cm and narrowed to a point at a height of 165–185 cm. Four rails were set on a slope on one side (the lowest being 25–59 cm above the ground). The other side comprised a single rail, 65–85 cm above the ground. Animal crossings were monitored by identifying tracks in snow, 10.5–109 hours after storms, on eight occasions from 5 January to 8 March 1988 and eight occasions from 16 November 1988 to 14 March 1989.


A replicated, controlled study in 1994 on a grassland site in New Mexico, USA (Knight et al. 1997) found that fences with a lowered top wire were crossed more by elk Cersus elaphus than were conventional fences. Of 10 fence designs trialled, two were crossed significantly more frequently than were conventional 100-cm high fences comprising four barbed wires. The two designs crossed most both involved lowering the top wire and fastening it to the second wire down, 80 cm above the ground. One also had the third wire attached to the bottom wire. These fences were crossed 4.6 and 4.3 times/day respectively. Conventional fences were crossed 2.3 times/day. No livestock escapes occurred during the trial. Fence sections, 15 m long, with 6–9 replicates of each design, were monitored for 21 days in late July–September 1994. Fence crossings were confirmed by presence of tracks and by breaks in a thread above the fence.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Littlewood, N.A., Rocha, R., Smith, R.K., Martin, P.A., Lockhart, S.L., Schoonover, R.F., Wilman, E., Bladon, A.J., Sainsbury, K.A., Pimm S. and Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Terrestrial Mammal Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for terrestrial mammals excluding bats and primates. Synopses of Conservation Evidence Series. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.