“It must have been just incredible out here, before the fences,” says Garry Hackler, a volunteer and hunter who has been journeying to south eastern Alberta for more than 40 years.

“Just a million miles of nothing,”

Pronghorn antelope are the fastest land animal over distance in the world – but as they evolved on the grasslands of North America, there was never any need to jump. Until the great grasslands began sprouting fences.

Pronghorn will crawl under a fence – but not jump. They often limit their travel to well worn trails where they can slip under barbed wire. But that leaves them vulnerable to predators and can force the animals well out of their way as they migrate in response to weather and food conditions.

“Pronghorn are at the very northern edge of their range in Alberta,” says TJ Schwanky of Alberta Fish and Game Association. “A bad winter can really hurt them, so having that easier migration corridor and things like that becomes key because sometimes they need to get out of dodge in a hurry when the weather gets bad.”

For the past four years, a joint project of Alberta Fish and Game Association and the Alberta Conservation Association has upgraded fences in the south eastern corner of the province, hoping to remove some of those barriers.

The project works in co-operation with landowners to replace the bottom strand of fencing with a smooth double-strand wire, raised to 18 inches from the ground, allowing Pronghorn to cross a fence anywhere along its length.

Barbed wire can cut the animal’s skin, leading to infection and in extreme cases death.

The fencing project is funded entirely through revenues from hunting licenses and a special hunting license lottery – together $350,000 has gone from hunters’ pockets to improved fencing in the past four years.

The labour is entirely volunteer, drawing a variety of people – some are not surprising, such as members of the Sarcee Fish and Game Association. But among the most dedicated are members of a Calgary artists collective, known as the Aeolian Recreational Boundary Institute.

The artists say they were drawn to the project as a way of experiencing a boundary or barrier –fixing the fences, they say, informs their creations. It was, at first, a slow marriage of seemingly dissimilar groups. But after many hours spent working together, a mutual respect has developed.

“They’re the ones who are doing it,” says Doug Haslam, an artist and maker. “It’s not another nature conservancy group or eco-activists, it’s actually the hunters themselves that have initiated and pushed forward this project.”

In 2011 there were an estimated 11,700 pronghorn in the province of Alberta.

To learn more about the program, visit the Alberta Conservation Association website.