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  • Writer's pictureTortolita Alliance

Desert Fence Busters Visit TP


Legacy Barbed Wire Fence [The Problem]

Barbed wire fence was installed throughout the Sonoran Desert over many years to identify property lines, contain cattle, prevent humans, animals and off-highway vehicles (OHVs) from entering the land, etc. Much of that barbed wire fence is no longer providing its original intended service. This legacy barbed wire fence is dangerous as it can easily entangle wild animals.

Desert Fence Busters [The Solution]

Tortolita Alliance (TA) Board Members, Tom Hanagan (left) and Dave Barker (middle), have been instrumental in developing a solution to remove legacy barbed wire fence and the ultimate formation, organization and leadership of the Desert Fence Busters. Tom and Dave also serve on the Board of the Friends of Ironwood Forest.

Here's how it all started. The Avra Valley Wildlife Connectivity Working Group has been meeting for some time discussing problems and solutions regarding local wildlife. Christine McVie and Carolyn Campbell (Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection) and Don Swann (Saguaro National Park) are three of the better-known members within the Tucson conservationist community involved in these discussions.  Tom Hannagan, Dave Barker and Jim Avramis (Friends of Ironwood Forest) got involved about three years ago. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has also been a key player. 

This initial group determined that removal of legacy barbed wire fence from property where the fence no longer serves any purpose was a critical objective to improve wildlife connectivity. It not only prevents animals from suffering gruesome deaths, it also improves gene pool mixing. Landscapes are also visually improved by removing decrepit fencing.  

With the assistance of Harold Maxwell, a former City of Tucson Water employee (now a private contractor with BKW Farms Inc.), the Friends of Ironwood Forest provided the organizational and logistical mass necessary to start a volunteer program. Thus, the Desert Fence Busters was born. This volunteer group now includes several partners; The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Friends of Ironwood Forest, Saguaro National Park, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Tucson Audubon, Friends of Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, Tortolita Alliance, The Mule Deer Foundation, BKW Farms, City of Tucson, and Pima County Flood Control. Desert Fence Busters is not a formal non-profit at this time; it’s a coalition of all of these groups, pitching in for a common good.  It’s been an amazing thing to watch unfold. Desert Fence Busters has a dedicated group of volunteers that participate consistently.  

In the last three years, Desert Fence Busters has removed legacy barbed wire fence at sites from just south of Three Points, north to Avra Valley Road. This is hard and dangerous work. Amazingly, Desert Fence Busters has the accomplished the following:

  • Barbed Wire Fence Removed-52.4 miles

  • Work Days-28

  • Volunteers-683

  • Scrap Metal-52,650 lbs or 26.3 tons

  • Pounds of Scrap Metal/Mile-1,000 lbs


Desert Fence Busters Visit Tortolita Preserve

On 5/2/24, the Desert Fence Busters tackled two legacy fence sites in the Tortolita Preserve (TP). Site 1-Utility Easement (mid-section) and Site 2-Pan Handle (eastern portion of the pan handle along the Highlands border). See map above.

Jay Grodman and Matthew Woodhall from the Town of Marana Parks & Recreation Department (MPR) assisted with the planning and the work. MPR also provided a truck with trailer to haul out the barbed wire fence that was removed.

The Desert Fence Busters had 17 volunteers assist with two teams (one at each site). A total of 1 mile of fence was removed with a total estimated weight of 1,000 lbs. Incredible! Thanks to all the volunteers.

Desert Fence Buster-Legacy Barbed Wire Fence Removal Steps

The following photos depict the steps involved in the process (from left to right and down): (1) locate legacy barbed wire fence before event, (2 & 3) remove the stays (spacers), (4) remove wire, (5, 6 & 7)-roll up barbed wire, (8 & 9) remove posts. The wire and posts are removed and either stored for future wildlife friendly fence projects (no barbs on top and bottom strands) or sold for scrap.

Photo Collage-Site 1

Photo Collage-Site 2


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