05/23/2012 06:26 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2012

Getting Your Hands Dirty for Wildlife

There is more than one way to help wildlife in Colorado. In addition to speaking with your elected officials about the importance of protecting crucial environmental laws and writing your local newspaper about regional wildlife conservation issues, you can also help wildlife by getting outside and getting your hands dirty.

Volunteering to spend a day working with federal, state or local agencies that are committed to helping preserve our beautiful state is an incredibly rewarding experience. With many agencies facing budget cuts, they are relying more and more on dedicated folks to help them complete projects designed to protect wildlife and the habitats they need to survive. Recognizing the importance of restoring wildlife habitat, Defenders of Wildlife's volunteers answered the call to action and have been active in restoring habitat for all sorts of wildlife along the Front Range west of Denver.

In the past few years, Defenders has partnered with Boulder County Parks and Open Space to improve habitat for birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons and great-horned owls. Defenders volunteers raked thick piles of pine needles and other forest materials away from the base of large ponderosa pine trees on Hall Ranch to help protect important habitat for the birds in the event of a forest fire. Defenders volunteers also worked alongside Eldorado Canyon State Park employees to help restore trout habitat in the South Boulder Creek. Volunteers removed litter and man-made dams from the creek so that trout would be able to spawn in mid-October, ensuring a successful population.

Last month, Defenders volunteers again helped Boulder County Parks and Open Space restore habitat for many critters at the Betasso Preserve in Boulder Canyon.

In the early 1900s, the Betasso Preserve was a 773-arce cattle ranch, but in 1975, Boulder County Parks and Open Space purchased the ranch and now manages the area.

But because the area was once a working cattle ranch, there were miles of barbed wire fencing crisscrossing the property, much of which no longer served a useful purpose. Unnecessary fencing is dangerous to deer, coyote, and other wildlife as these critters can become entangled in the barbed wire. The fencing can also act as unnecessary obstacles for animals as they search for food, water, and mates.

Two years ago, Defenders of Wildlife volunteers helped remove a section of unnecessary barbed wire fence from Betasso Preserve and last month, we completed the project by removing the final sections. This stewardship project not only provided volunteers with the satisfaction of protecting wildlife and their habitat, but also the feeling of accomplishment as we completed the final part of a larger project.

We set off from the Bummer's Rock trailhead on a clear, but incredibly windy, Saturday morning and headed into the trees to begin removing the fence. One of the reasons this particular section of barbed wire fence was so dangerous to wildlife was because of how worn down the fence had become over the years. Fence posts had been knocked down and in some sections, the barbed wire had actually become buried under forest vegetation. It is easy for a coyote or other animal to get tangled in barbed wire fencing that is sagging and not very visible.

Defenders volunteers carefully cut the four strands of barbed wire from each fence post, or in some cases, tree trunks that doubled as fence posts, and rolled up the barbed wire to create bicycle wheel-sized coils. Once we had about seven to ten coils, we looped them onto a large tree branch and, with one person on either side of the branch, two volunteers carried the coils back out to the parking lot. We continued this process until all the barbed wire fencing had been cut, rolled-up, and carried back to the trailhead.

Working hard throughout the morning, we successfully removed all the unnecessary fencing from Betasso Preserve just in time for lunch. As we ate our sandwiches, we reflected on how rewarding and satisfying the day had been. With the help of Defenders' passionate volunteers and the expertise and guidance of Boulder County Parks and Open Space, the wildlife that live in and move through Betasso Preserve will now be able to travel with a few less obstacles in the way. It was a day well worth the blisters and dirty hands.

Fence Removal Project at Betasso Preserve