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Don't fence them in!

Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above,'' goes an old American ballad, ''Don't fence me in.'' It's a need that applies to migratory animals today as strongly as it ever did to the individualistic American of another era. Today, in Wyoming, one of those animals - the graceful antelope - is in substantial danger because, at least temporarily, it's being fenced out of its winter grazing area as the direct result of a dispute between a rancher and a local utility.

The basic issue is money - lots of it. The innocent victim is the antelope herd, about 1,500 animals strong.

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A proposal has been made to lease a segment of land for coal production; it's in an area designated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as ''critical winter habitat'' for antelopes. The rancher wants different land strip-mined. In an apparent effort to force a trade of land, he has erected a long fence between where the antelopes now are and their winter feeding ground. Since antelopes won't jump high fences, their survival is threatened.

Through the governor's office, wildlife officials are trying to get a temporary agreement to remove the fence while talks continue in an effort to reach a permanent solution.

Obviously the fence should be removed forthwith. Civilized people ought to be able to reach a reasonable compromise on the coal-mining issue: There is no need to threaten the destruction of innocent animals.

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