New Mexico BHA Tackles Kiowa Fence Improvements

As Backcountry Hunters and Anglers members and Forest Service personnel gathered on Friday evening, newcomers were treated to the wide open vistas of the high plains, vast unbroken skylines and unfortunately, Eastern New Mexico spring winds. With gusts of up to 60 mph and sustained winds of 40 mph or so, volunteers buttoned up and scooted close to propane campfires as they got to know each other and planned out the work for the 4th Annual Kiowa National Grassland project.  

Neither night nor morning brought a reprieve from the winds. Eleven BHA volunteers split into three groups to tackle the day’s tasks. Forest Service employees gave a safety talk before leading the groups across miles of dirt roads to inspect existing fencelines and to modify targeted sections. The modification work required raising the bottom strands of the fence to a minimum of 16 inches to allow pronghorn to traverse the lands more easily. One group expanded the fence around a wildlife guzzler, and nearly rebuilt an enclosure for a playa wetland, which included installing a bottom wire to ease passage.

The continued dedication of NM BHA volunteers over the past four years has made a large impact on the accessibility of these National Grasslands to pronghorn. This year, volunteers and Forest Service staff modified or verified the height of 16.8 miles or fence and completed 0.42 miles of exclosure work, effectively improving 6,412 acres or 10.0 square miles of shortgrass prairie habitat. Less than 10 miles of interior fencing remain to be modified. Private land boundaries bring their own challenges for modification work, but Kristen Warren, the Forest Service biologist, is dedicated to working with grazers and conservation partners like BHA to modify allotment fencing wherever possible so that both permittees and pronghorn benefit.  

After a long day of bumpy roads and high winds, the group shook off the dust and gathered for a potluck dinner. Elk sliders were the most abundant food, but javelina chorizo and goose tacos made for some excellent variety. A few brave souls toughed out the cold winds for some fireside brews and all went to bed hoping for calm weather in the morning. The group finally woke up to stillness and a quick breakfast of Golden Pride burritos fueled the planning session for the morning's work. With all volunteers having a long ride home, a short day of inspecting, replacing, and erecting road closure signs was planned for the bottom of Mills Canyon.


Mills Canyon is a striking break in the prairie landscape. The Canadian River runs its course 800 feet below the canyon rim. Grassland, Piñon/Juniper, and Ponderosa pine ecosystems all share a comparative speck of landscape, with the Canadian creating riparian habitat in the canyon bottoms. The marks of historic usage are shown in two track roads running parallel to the river and striking out every so often. While access to these roads needs to be available for firefighting or emergency services, the goal for the canyon is to conserve the fragile riparian areas. Last year, nine signs deterring off-road vehicle use were installed.  This year, after one new sign was installed and replaced two others, the work was finished. With new friends made and pride in the shared work, all went their separate ways. 

The work completed throughout this ongoing project will have lasting effects for the Kiowa National Grassland. New Mexico BHA is proud to be able to partner with the Forest Service in this and future endeavors. Please consider volunteering for our future projects and events to support our mission of protecting public lands. If you are considering a trip to Mills canyon, it is absolutely worth it; just pray it’s not windy.


About Abran Briseno

Abran is a lifelong resident of New Mexico, as well as a lifelong hunter/angler.

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