A Virtual Fence to Meet the Challenge of Idaho's Rangelands
Fencing is a vital tool for livestock and grazing management that ensures effective management of rangelands. Not only do fences help livestock producers manage herds, but they are also an important conservation tool that restricts livestock from grazing sensitive habitats or targets grazing in selected areas to reduce invasives or wildfire fuels. Unfortunately, physical fences also have downfalls, such as fragmenting landscapes and obstructing wildlife movement habitats.
Virtual fences are one of the today’s most promising new technologies for livestock management and rangeland conservation. This new technology allows for grazing boundaries to be set without a physical barrier by delivering a mild shock to the ear or neck of an animal when they approach a designated boundary. Livestock can be prevented from entering sensitive areas, such as riparian areas and endangered species habitats, without physical fencing. Grazing could be concentrated to facilitate weed control or reduce wildlife fuels without costly and time-consuming fence alterations. Fences across the west may begin to disappear, re-opening and reshaping the modern western landscape to wildlife movement, recreation, and unobstructed vistas.
While virtual fencing technology offers a new and exciting possibilities, this technology also comes with challenges. Commercially available systems rely on GPS technology, and many require regular software updates, frequent battery changes or charging for collars, and consistent communication with satellites. This can be a challenge in a western ranching environment where livestock may roam throughout steep and remote terrain over thousands of acres.
Rangeland Center Director Karen Launchbaugh is spearheading a new project to develop a virtual fence specifically designed for range conditions, thanks to a $1 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. By utilizing ground-based proximity sensing and technology designed for a rugged and remote environment, the researchers are aiming to build a lower-cost system requiring less energy and intervention that is specifically designed for the challenges of Idaho’s range.
Development of virtual fence systems appropriate for western ranches may one day dramatically reduce the number of fences on rangelands, improving wildlife habitat and reducing issues that can occur with livestock grazing. “As wildlife habitat becomes increasingly fragmented and recreational activities on rangelands continue to grow, maintaining unobstructed corridors for movement of wildlife and humans is critical,” said Karen Launchbaugh, director of the U of I Rangeland Center. “Advances in wire fence designs have reduced issues for wildlife, but wire fences continue to disrupt wildlife movement.”
This project is bringing together researchers at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, livestock producers, and students as they take an innovative approach to designing virtual fences. The new design will focus on developing technology suited for rugged western terrain that meets the needs of western ranchers. Learn more about the project and read the Press Release here.
This project was recently highlighted in Beef Magazine, KMTV, PNW Ag Network, and RFD Magazine.