Lost River Range: Pass Creek, Pine Creek, Wet Creek

This is from the WWP blog about a range inspection tour we went on back in early October on the Lost River Ranger District. That is in the Lost River Mountains. We looked at conditions at the end of the grazing season in Pass Creek, Pine Creek, and Wet Creek. The Forest Service district ranger (new to the area) came along with one of her range conservation officers.

Things did not look good.

I have been going to this scenic area since the late 1970s, and it was the worst I have seen it, probably due to the drought and heat this summer.

It is still scenic if you look at the mountain peaks and Pass Creek gorge, but you have to look down too.

This is potentially one of the nicest drives in the West (up Pass Creek and over the top down Wet Creek to the Little Lost River Valley), but the intensity of the grazing guarantees it isn’t. Then too on the Wet Creek side the private land has been fenced. They may be good in keeping public land grazers’ cows off private land, but the fence has eliminated the pronghorn that used to always be there, often racing and passing your vehicle.

Lost River Range: Pass Creek, Pine Creek, Wet Creek. From WWP blog.


  1. Tim Avatar

    The post said “but the fence has eliminated the pronghorn that used to always be there, often racing and passing your vehicle.”

    It’s been a long time since I lived in pronghorn country but one of my most vivid memories of a pronghorn sighting goes like this:
    I just came back from fishing a stream and was sitting in my car. I saw a pronghorn walk up to a chainlink fence (6 foot plus tall) and graze for a few minutes. Then this magnificent animal basically did a flat footed high jump over the fence. This happened within 25 feet of me and I had a clear view. It gave me goosebumps witnessing this amazing feat.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    That is amazing because the conventional wisdom is that a pronghorn never ever jumps a fence that high.

  3. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Well, Tim has seen a truely amazing thing, or was jawwing on some loco weed. I for one have seen on many occasions dozens of dead pronghorns trapped by 4′ sheep fence: 36″ of woven wire with 2 strands of barb on top. Their rear hooves strike the top wire, catch, then fold inside and catch the lower wire on the opposite side, effectively hobblying them. Then they are eaten alive by the coyotes.
    When given a chance, they want to scoot under, not over. Thats why “friendly” ranchers eliminate the bottom stand on a 4 strand fence.
    In my experience, they fear fence of any kind. I imagine it is a hard wire issue left over from when all they had to do was wander the open range…

  4. Dave Jones Avatar
    Dave Jones

    I have never seen a pronghorn go over even something as low as a 3-wire fence (38-42″ high), but always amazed to see them shoot under a 16″ wire. I’ve read that there is no physical reason that pronghorn cannot jump straight up as described (i.e. their anatomy does not seem to prevent a deer-like jump). But never heard of one jumping 6 ft.
    Must have been something to see.

  5. skyrim Avatar

    I sat and watched a Pronghorn contemplating a 3 foot barbed wire fence west of sage junction on highway 89. The animal, while contemplating the obstruction, never once showed any sign or made any attempt to scale it. I can tell you honestly that I was prepared to cut the damn thing had he got tangled up in it. I’ve cut horses out of the miserable stuff and saw photos of trophy elk dead and dying in it’s grip. Barbed wire is the single biggest blight on the american west landscape.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Fortunately the use of barbed wire fences is on the decline. In some places it is due to esthetics, and the barbed wire may be replaced by something just as bad for wildlife.

    In many cases sun-powered electric fences are used for seasonal operations like livestock grazing.

    While these can be put in a bad location and, therefore, damage a stream, for example, deer can jump them and antelope go under them.

    They provide a less expensive solution for those who have no livestock, but live in open range country where, if they don’t want livestock on their property, legally they have to fence the livestock out.

  7. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    In eastern Oregon volunteers have taken down 200 miles of barbed wire. That was the count in June or July…maybe earlier in the year. While working on this project they have kept track of not just an increase in wild life, but also variety. This is an ongoing project of volunteers only. I hope projects such as this become a growing trend that spreads into neighboring states. The folks said it is hard work but seeing the results is very rewarding. And was shown by their big smiles.

  8. skyrim Avatar

    dBH: Is this a project that has the endorsement of the land owner (s) or a “monkey wrench” kinda effort?

  9. SAP Avatar

    Individual pronghorn WILL jump obstacles. The few I’ve seen do it did it at a run and sort of just gathered up their legs and glided over the top wire.

    As Mike Post wrote, it’s probably a behavior they didn’t really need in their evolutionary past, living on mostly flat, treeless terrain. They may have glided over the occasional ravine or swale, but for the most part they would have just dodged obstacles.

    Incidentally, one of the flying pronghorn I saw was one that I had just cut out of a badly dilapidated barbed-wire fence.

    I’m not so sure barbed wire is itself such a bad thing. Woven wire (aka page wire or sheep fence) is quite the obstacle, confounding even some bears and canids.

    The worst barbed wire I see is saggy, to the point that it makes a good snare. And, as others noted here, fences with bottom wires lower than 16″ (although I have seen pronghorn get under 13″, they had trouble with it) are bad, too.

    The best solution I have seen is let-down fence, whether smooth wire or barbed wire.

    Portable electric (polywire) is insufficient to totally contain cattle or horses or bison, so some good stout fence with permanent posts is necessary.

    You can have permanent posts yet still be able to drop the wires down when livestock aren’t there — this saves wildlife from having to jump it or duck it, and ultimately increases the lifespan of the fence, too.

    If you want to see some good examples of let-down fences, there are lots around Henry’s Lake (ironically, I think this started to avoid snaring snowmobilers!!), in the Centennial Valley, and northwest of Raynolds’ Pass.

  10. sal Avatar

    I have never seen antelope leap or jump. I have had them run along beside my semi many, many times and they seemed to know where the ground was drastically lower in one spot where they could dash UNDER the fence to get away from they road. This was while I was passing through places like South Pass and up along the Wind River. But they never jumped.

    I am impressed at how high mule deer can leap when clearing a fence…

  11. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    skyrim—— and Everyone,
    Serious. NO “monkey wrenches”! And I have accurate details. I wil try to be as brief as possible…. I,ll parphase the info I have.
    “No Boundaries” is a short film documentary from “One Earth Productions” a non-profit that consists of five students from the U. of O.
    The film is about Southeastern OR’s Steen Mtountain; The FIRST “COW FREE” WILDERNESS AREA IN THE US. The Clinton admin. in 2000 signed into law the Steen Mt Cooperative management and Protection Act, that was a land swap to preserve 175,000 acres of wilderness on the mt. {it is quicker NOT to paraphrase}
    “Rancher’s who had lived on the mt for generations rallied against the cooperative. In the end, they were bought out by the government and moved elsewhere. With them went a few thousand cows and calves. Now that the cows are gone, 112 miles of barbed-wire fence must be removed from the mt. Erin Barnholdt outreach coordinator for OR Natural Desert Association {ONDA}, directs the labor of hundreds of volunteers every summer, about 65 of them in the steen. It takes a crew of 10 volunteers 2 days to pull a single mile of fence at the cost of about $2,500 a mile. Removing the barbed wire fences allows the land to heal and opens passage for the wildlife that roams this mt: pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and herds of wild mustangs.”
    ” By watching the film, people will see how beautiful the Stean Mountain area is and why it is important to conserve the environment.”
    This aired August 27th of this year. At the time the show was aired 200 miles had been removed. I am guessing that maybe they were asked to keep going by other landowners. I will see if I can find out about that.
    It would be great if more land swaps would happen. Maybe with the next admin??

  12. be Avatar

    you’ve peaked my interest in the documentary… if you’ve got any info on how i might get ahold of a copy – please, pass it on…

  13. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    be— I just sent an email inquiry to OPB. It may take one to two days for a response, as noted on the web-site. I will keep you posted.

  14. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    be—-I received a detailed response from OPB. It has e-mails listed and i do not want to “broadcast”. I will forward it to Ralph, and if he doesn’t mind forward to you.

    Or—I can send e-mails to the contacts I received. If there is anything you would like to add, just let me know.

    It would be great if other states would join in. It would at least make a good argument considering the steady increase in the area that burns each year.

  15. be Avatar

    thank you very much d. Bailey Hill ~ I appreciate it and look forward to viewing the film.

  16. catbestland Avatar

    D. Bailey Hill,

    I would love to view the film as well. It would be superb if more of these land swaps could happen. Could I get the info from Ralph too? Or could you email me with the info?



Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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