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Don't Fence Me In

Updated: Feb 4, 2018

I've never liked fences. Being trapped inside anywhere is always a drag. I guess that's one reason I always hated public schools. Compulsory confinement to a little desk inside the walls of classrooms for the greater part of the day wasn't at all enjoyable, much less conducive to learning. So when I finally kicked the bad habit of city dwelling and began living every day of life surrounded by wilderness, I felt nothing could be better. All was right in the world. I never expected to be fenced in again.

There were fences surrounding the property here when it was purchased, but the two longest stretches were old, built at least a hundred years ago, and were barely there anymore. Their axe-cut oak posts were leaning or toppled and the rusty barbed wire drooped close to the ground everywhere it hadn't long since disappeared completely beneath decades of pine needles and oak leaves. Elk and mule deer had no trouble stepping right over it without having to leap at all.

Before finalizing purchase of the package of rights to develop and live on the property, I had noticed something wrong with the east and west side fence lines. These two fences were both over 4,000 ft long so I began walking them repeatedly and recording GPS coordinates along their entire lengths. Then I plotted the GPS coordinates over aerial GIS imagery downloaded from TerraServer and found they were both very crooked. The west side fence bowed across eastward almost 300 feet to within a few feet of the east property line as it was described in the legal metes and bounds and platt survey. The east side fence bowed about the same distance eastward as the west side did. Whoever built the fence had not built it in a straight line as dictated by all of the legal descriptions on file for the property. This was not good and I knew I would have to properly mark the boundaries, sooner than later. A new survey by a state-licensed surveyor was ordered as a requirement to complete the purchase. It was filed, along with a Quiet Title Action, at the county office as official record.

In August 2013 after severe, prolonged drought, a thunderstorm rolled down the canyon from the west. As it advanced, lightning stabbed at the sky from several points of forest floor spread out to the west. I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes and watched the storm drop the first rain the parched land had received all summer long. Fear of fires were easing.

Then about a mile away, a fat bolt of jagged, actinic light lanced into the clouds well within line of sight up hill from the house. A few minutes later, tendrils of smoke drifted up from the lightning bolt's point of origin. Dread sparked within my chest as I kept an eye on the smoke. Despite the rain from the storm, the forest was still tender dry. It looked like a forest fire was about to start up canyon. I called the U.S. Forest Service and described what I was seeing.

They responded quickly and three wildfire fighters dressed in bright yellow wildland fire suits wielding Mclouds, shovels and a chainsaw headed uphill to put out the burning patch of forest. Within moments, I heard them fire up the chainsaw and then watched a single, large, dead spruce topple over, trailing white smoke in a wide arc.

About an hour and a half later the fire fighters emerged from the forest, thanked me for the alert and assured me there was no danger of forest fire. I thanked them for saving the forest and gave them jars of choke cherry jelly in appreciation of their prompt response and action. They grinned modestly and waved goodbye.

The following fall, I marked the legal boundaries of the property with signage placed as prescribed by law at five hundred foot intervals around the entire perimeter. I didn't want to build new fence if I could avoid it but after the adjacent landowner to the west eventually came out to check on their unoccupied property and spotted my signs they became irate, recruited a small army of men to come help them pull up the signs set along the west-side of the property. I summoned state police to stop them and recorded their trespass and destruction of property while waiting for the police to arrive. The state police stopped them from removing more signs and advised them to return all of the ones they had already pulled up. Unhappy with the outcome, the adjacent landowner started a very ill-advised war of wills against my efforts to properly mark the west boundary of my property.

Lawyers were hired, large amounts of money were spent paying them and threats were received (both verbal and physical) until there was no doubt remaining that the metes and bounds and platt survey–which were backed by the Quiet Title Action accompanying both documents when they were filed at the county clerk's office prior to purchase of the land–proved the correct boundary was the one I had marked with signage.

Unfortunately, last year at this time I had to construct a new fence along the west boundary to force a halt to repeated, belligerent trespassing by the adjacent landowners who are still angry with me for doing what had to be done to properly mark the boundary–apparently incapable of understanding that taking steps to mark it were unavoidable for me to plan future use of the land. They cannot accept that my efforts were absolutely necessary and would save everyone more headaches and legal expense than if I had never taken measures to resolve the issue before some future land use related action brought it all to a head. It doesn't matter to them that the letter of the law was followed throughout the process. It doesn't matter that it was the right thing to do. They have never thanked me for doing it.

They also have never thanked me for calling the U.S. Forest Service to come save their forestland from destruction by wildfire during the long drought in the summer of 2013.

I doubt they ever will.

So now there is another fence in the world.

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