Desert Fence Busters

Meet the group that has removed 40+ miles of outdated barbed wire fence in the name of wildlife protection and habitat connectivity!


The Desert Fence Busters is a collaborative conservation project in Tucson’s west valley to improve and enhance wildlife movement between natural areas by removing miles of deadly fencing barriers. After a unique partnership began nine years ago to share information between agencies on projects centered in Avra Valley west of the Tucson Mountains, it emerged that multiple land management agencies had outdated fencing that are impeding wildlife, with animal carcasses found hung up on barbed wire while attempting to jump or crawl through the fence.

In response to this problem, in December 2021, over 65 volunteers came together one morning to remove three miles of old fencing, including three tons of fence posts and wire fencing, from an area in northern Avra Valley. Removing this fencing is important to improve the critical wildlife linkage areas between Tucson Mountain Park, Saguaro National Park, Ironwood Forest National Monument, and the Tohono O’odham Nation. 

According to Don Swann, a biologist at Saguaro National Park, “Many studies have shown that barbed wire fences can stop large animals, change their movement patterns, and keep them away from water and food sources they need to survive. Animals can also be killed trying to jump over a barbed wire fence if they become entangled and are not able to free themselves.”

“Some of these fences have been around for a hundred years and have no current purpose,” said Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the conservation group Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “But what they do is block the movement of wildlife throughout the landscape.”

Volunteers from a suite of agencies and NGOs are involved, including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Friends of Ironwood Forest, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, National Park Service, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Mule Deer Foundation, BKW, Tucson Audubon Society, and Friends of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. 

WORK SUMMARY 2021-2023

The Desert Fence Busters spent much of 2021 exploring the extent of obsolete fences in the Avra Valley, raising awareness amongst stakeholders, obtaining permissions from land managers, and recruiting volunteers.

In 2022, the Desert Fence Busters continued to get organized by identifying the extent of obsolete fences in the Avra Valley, Altar Valley, and the Tucson Mountains-Catalina Mountains Corridor. The group continued to expand its network of partnerships with agencies and landowners to identify and remove obsolete fences with volunteer labor. The group began to identify “double fences” as particularly difficult for deer and other species to cross and target these fences as the highest priority for removal. Fencing was removed from three jurisdictions in 2022: City of Tucson (Tucson Water), Pima County, and the National Park Service.

In 2023, the Desert Fence Busters continued to refine strategies for prioritizing fence removals. The group continued working with willing landowners in the Tucson area to identify and remove obsolete fences with volunteer labor. The group continued to target “double fences” as the highest priority for removal, along with properties with a high density of obsolete fences. Fencing was removed from two jurisdictions in 2023: City of Tucson (Tucson Water) and the National Park Service.

Read the Desert Fence Busters Annual Reports Here

Interested in volunteering? Visit our calendar

Check out photos below from the November 2022 Big Wash fence removal event in Oro Valley:

Check out photos below from the December 2021 and March 2022 fence removal volunteer events in Avra Valley:


Desert Fence Busters Event Video – Coalition For Sonoran Desert Protection, Facebook, 2024

Capping Death Pipes with Desert Fence Busters – Tucson Audubon, Facebook, 2024

Old Fences in Oro Valley being ripped out to clear path for wildlife – AZ Daily Star, November 3, 2022

National Park Service press release for February 2022 event – February 2022 

Groups ripping out old barbed wire that blocks wildlife movement west of Tucson – AZ Daily Star, March 5, 2022

Press Release for March 10-12, 2022 event – March 7, 2022

Miles of barbed wire removed to save wildlife – KOLD13, March 10, 2022

Volunteers get rid of fences that may harm wildlife near Three Points – KVOA4, March 10, 2022