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Buck rail fence

Grand Teton National Park’s Buck Rail Fences

 A Disappearing, Distinctive Park Feature

Buck Rail Fence

Until recently, buck and rail fences, or buck and pole fences, we found commonly throughout Grand Teton National Park. One of the most commonly photographed section of buck rail fences ran along the highway just west of Triangle X Ranch. The fence line traversed the rolling the terrain and provided a terrific year round subject. The majestic Teton range rose from the Snake Rive—and the fence provided a distinctive and memorable foreground subject.

The Old Jackson Hole Road

This is a Harrison Crandall painted postcard showing the Old Jackson Hole Road. The caption on the back reads, “The Old Jackson Hole Road” which follows the east border of the Valley. Fences of the “buck and pole” type such as these are remnants of early days and are still a distinctive feature.” Another postcard featured a buck rail fence and included this caption, “The Tetons from Park Headquarters—Fences of the “buck and pole” type such as these, are a remnant of the early ranching days, and are still a distinctive feature of Jackson Hole scenery. (Security Lithograph Co, San Francisco, CA)

New Fence Posts

In late May of 2014, the Park Service removed the historic old buck rail fences in front of Triangle X and began installing new treated fence posts.

Web_BarbedWireFence1_June15

By June 15th, the completed fence looked like this. Since the new fence was completed, I see far fewer photographer stopping to take pictures the Triangle X location.

Sunrise Photographer

In earlier years, it was very common to see a dozen photographers taking advantage of the location. This photographer was shooting over the fences, but I believe most included it.

Just the Fence

A buck rail fence consists of a “cross-buck” and three to six rails. Abundant Lodgepole pine trees supplied the raw materials.

Fence

It is always worth getting up early to capture the Tetons at first light. Throw in a little history in the foreground, and you’re set!

Pano

This panoramic image was taken a few miles north of Triangle X Ranch. This section of buck rail fences is still in place, but it is deteriorating. (click the image to see it much larger)

Ghost Fence

This section of the old fence was taken just north of Triangle X Ranch in January of 2015. By mid summer, it was gone, and the new style fence took its place.

Current Fence

Okay, the current fence isn’t exactly ugly, but it lacks the romantic flavor and historic significance of the previous fences. What do you think? Comments welcome!

Fence

Most of the shots I took of the old fence were probably captured in the winter. The fence stands out against the snow better and there’s often a cornice of snow in the deep crevice. In the summer, there are lots of opportunities and locations available to photographers, however in the winter, access is severely restricted. This location has a pull-out next to the highway, making it a safe place to get off the road.

Fence

This shot was taken long before sunrise during the pre-alpenglow period.

Shane Cabin Oct 2008

There are still buck rail fences sprinkled around the Park. Look for them at the old Shane Cabin (Luther Taylor Cabin)  and the Chapel of the Transfiguration. There is a nice section near the Cunningham Cabin, and a few sections along the highway near Moose Head Ranch. There are still a few sections near the Kelly Warm Springs. The only remaining highway buck rail fences are north of Snake River Overlook. A buck rail fence lines a portion of the Inner Park Road near the Taggart Lake trail head. The boundary fences along the Gros Ventre Campground has also been removed. I am not sure if the fences along the western portion of Antelope Flats road was installed by the Park Service or by private land owners, but a few new sections have recently been replaced there. The trend definitely seems to be removal over replacement.

Addendum: I shared this post on the Teton Photography Group Facebook page. Cristine Paige replied with this post:

Mike, with all due respect, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation has been working very hard to help the park and private inholders replace the old buck and rail with wildlife friendlier fence designs. I know many people like buck and rail fence as “historic” and more aesthetic than post and rail, but these fences create a three-dimensional hazard for wildlife. They are very difficult for animals to negotiate, especially in snow — larger animals can’t jump or crawl through them, and they’re often knocked down by bison, elk, and snow-loading, requiring a lot of maintenance. The top rail is usually placed in the “cradle” of the bucks, making the fence much too high for ungulates to jump. The replacement post and rail with smooth wire is designed for animals to jump or crawl under more easily while still retaining the horses and cattle where there are grazing inholdings. If you would like to learn more about wildlife friendly fence designs, you can download my handbook for landowners free from the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation.” Thanks, Chris. http://www.wyomingwildlifefoundation.org/

Triangle X Gates

I think most photographers would give wildlife the benefit of the doubt in most situations.  In this case, I’d love to see buck rail fences running roughly 100-150 yards south from the two Triangle X gates. This particular section is located against a step hill and not on any sort of game migration path. The buck rail fence could end on the back side of the hill south of the crevice.  It  would be out of view of most shots taken at the location—and more likely in a zone where animals “might” cross. It seems there could be some blending of technology when aesthetics conflict with animal safety by including post and rail sections in migration zones and buck rail fencing in at least some of the photogenic areas.

Triangle X Gates and Fences

Your help, donations, and support could bring back a few of the historic fences! The Grand Teton National Park Foundation, along with the support of Grand Teton National could fund the replacement of sections of the old fences. I’d like to think this post could help bring this subject to their attention. I’ve included just a few of my images of the fences above, but would love to include YOUR images on the page, along with your comments. Please, take a minute and make a comment—and if you have a favorite photo of the fences, send them to me via email at info@tetonimages.com. I’ll try to post as many as I can.


Reader Submissions and Comments Below:

Jean Brandenburg

My husband, I and another couple visited the GTNP in Sept of 2014.  I was aware the rail fences were being replaced at the time.  We enjoyed seeing them as we drove around and one shot I definitely wanted was of the 4 of us on a rail fence with the Tetons in the background.  We got that shot.  And some without us.  Attached is my favorite, taken near Cunningham’s cabin.    If public outcry will help, let it be known that all 4 of us would like to see the historic fences remain and rebuilt.  The area is beautiful but also historic and seeing it closer to the way it was makes a big difference.”  — Jean Brandenburg – Robin Brandenburg – Steve Shaw – Cheryl Shaw

R Parthasarathy

“I’m really surprised that they would replace these fences, at least for historical reasons.  They have a character the modern fences can’t hope to match.  My wife and I were there last year and really loved the place.” Ranganath

Norma Brandsberg

Norma Brandsberg: Goode, VA

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Comments (11)

  1. Mike. Again, wonderful work. Thanks for the history lesson and great images. Dan

  2. As usual Mike, your photographs are stunning. I completely agree with you about the fences. Your photos with the old buck and rail fences are welcoming; they invite and draw the viewer into the landscape. The ones with the new fences don’t have the same “warmth,” which isn’t a fault of the image. The new fences have a cold, impersonal and off-putting feel; they seem to say “keep away” while the old fences seem to say “c’mon, hop on for a better view!” How sad to lose them.

  3. Classic Mike R. Jackson post ! ! ! Not only do your photos tell a wonderful story, but your “story” about the fences expand on the beauty. This winter I will make a special effort to get more buck-rail fences in my photos of the Tetons since those beautiful historical fences won’t be there forever. Gotta have some good shots for my grandchildren to remember the warmth (thanks for that word Jennifer, it is perfect) of the fences of the Tetons.

  4. David Moulton

    I also hate to see the old buck and rails fences disappearing. They’re an import part of Jackson’s history, as you say. My father, Harley Moulton, built a foot or two of buck fence in the area. Often when we were in Jackson, and would pass by a “new” buck fence, he would signal in some way his disapproval of the new fence’s construction. For some reason, he didn’t like the way they were later built. I could never figure out why he didn’t like them, but he rarely did. Regardless, I’d like to see the old fences restored or rebuilt, notwithstanding how dad might have critiqued them…

  5. John Oden

    What a great little piece of Grand Teton you’ve given me today (again)….thanks, Mike

  6. Josh Metten

    Mike, I love the photos and you are right the fences are aesthetically pleasing but wildlife are more important. We have already lost an estimated 75% of wildlife migrations in this state. Here are some facts about fences, more info is available at http://www.jhwildlife.org/pdf/fencentbk_sm.pdf and http://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Wyo_FenceGuide.pdf:

    “Buck and Rail Fence Buck and rail or jackleg fence should be avoided as it presents a formidable barrier and hazard to wildlife. It is usually built too high, too wide, and with rails placed too closely together for animals to negotiate easily. The three-dimensional design is especially hard to leap over or crawl through, and animals can tumble and break legs. If buck and rail is combined with woven wire or barbed wire, or the fence is placed on steep terrain, it creates a complete barrier. This style of fence is also expensive and requires high maintenance: the posts and rails rot and collapse under snow loads and winds. Some landowners like the look of buck and rail as it evokes tradition and history. However, it should not be used for extensive reaches and should only be used in specific situations, such as wet soils. Frequent crossings should be provided for wildlife.”

    Fences create a barrier to movement as animals seek to meet their daily needs for water, shade and food. Winter migration is affected by fence which pose a risk of entanglement and may affect the vigor of animals already stressed by harsh winter conditions; this is especially true for young animals.

    Fences block wildlife from critical winter range and access to food and water necessary for survival. This could force animals into less desirable ranges in terms of slope aspect, vegetation and snow depth affecting the long term survival of the herd.

  7. Josh, Everything you stated is 100% valid. I get it, but I don’t believe it has to be an either/or scenario. I am suggesting the use of the historic old fencing in a few prime viewing/photography areas when they do not impede migration patterns. I could also suggest a few wildlife friendly sections of the post and rail variety mixed in with some sections of buck rail fencing. Does it have to be one way?

  8. Richard Hanks

    It’s a no brainer when it comes aesthetic appeal, but just follow the all mighty dollar for the answer. Sounds like the park needs an archetectural historian.

  9. Richard Hanks

    I should take back my reply based on the previous persons reply concerning the safety of the wildlife. I fully agree with them and I also like your idea that a few scenic areas could have a historical sections of fencing. Definitely safety first.

  10. I’d love to see a balance between costs/budgets, animal safety in migration zones, and aesthetic considerations when the second one is not at play. Most of the fences we are talking about run parallel with the migration patterns.

  11. Josh Metten

    Mike, I should give thanks to you for starting this important conversation. Leaving buck rail fencing where it does not pose a threat is certainly an option and I’m glad that you recognize that the priority is wildlife first. Animals move all over the valley, I’ve personally seen elk crossing the road and taking advantage of the new wildlife friendly fencing near the Triangle X ranch. Determining where and at what frequency they are attempting to cross fences might be a bit difficult and it is important to recognize that in a changing world current movements may shift in the future. It’s best to give animals as many options as possible to respond to this. Thanks and see you out there!

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