Expanding the Field
Virtual Fencing as Responsive Landscape Technology
The Plan Journal. 4.1 (2019): 159-185. doi: 10.15274/tpj.2019.04.01.12
Livestock are the largest drivers of landscape change in the world, depleting land and water resources, negatively impacting biodiversity and contributing significantly to climate change. Though the environmental impact of livestock farming has been well documented, the role of the fence in shaping the form and function of livestock production landscapes deserves more attention. The evolution of fencing technology from wooden post to barbed wire has transformed vast swaths of the American landscape, facilitating agricultural intensification at the cost of ecological fragmentation. Emerging technologies in virtual fencing offer the opportunity to subvert this paradigm. These systems can electronically corral and move livestock via GPS-enabled animal collars. This article places the application of virtual fencing technologies within landscape architectural discourse and outlines untapped opportunities for design intervention. The first section comprises a survey of historic and contemporary fencing technologies, highlighting the economic drivers and ecological consequences of innovation. The second section explores the emergence of sustainable ranching systems and virtual fencing technology. The article concludes with a speculative design proposal, considering the potential of responsive fencing technologies to reformat grazing landscapes according to the principles of adaptation and ecological production.