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Transplanted pronghorn surviving, producing offspring

 

Sam Rushing listens for the tracking radio signal of the antelope on a dirt road east of Bridgeport while Rich Whitney searches the horizon with binoculars. - Jacob Wagner photo

Pronghorn antelope, native to the area before being wiped out, were transplanted on the Colville Indian Reservation by way of Nevada in 2016, and again in 2017, and appear to be doing well.

With 51 of the animals wearing tracking collars, there are at least 89 adults and 29 fawns, according to an aerial headcount by Colville Tribal Fish & Wildlife Biologist Sam Rushing.

"I know there's more out there," Rushing said.

The animals have been roaming as far south as Wenatchee and Quincy, and as far north as Jackass Butte and Okanogan.

A July 10 field trip to see the antelope from a distance east of Bridgeport in the boonies was attended by Fish & Wildlife employees, journalists, and Colville Tribal Chairman Michael Marchand.

Pronghorns are the fastest animal in North America, capable of running an estimated 55 miles per hour to outrun their predators.

Rich Whitney, the wildlife program manager for Fish & Wildlife, said that the pronghorns evolved to run that fast to outrun a now-extinct North American cheetah.

Returning the pronghorn to the area is part of an effort to maintain a healthy ecosystem. With a larger pronghorn population, predators could hunt them, which could help other populations such as sharp-tailed grouse, who've had a dwindling population in the area.

"Our biggest challenge right now is fenceline," Whitney said, referring to the pronghorns' inability to jump over fences. That leads to them being cornered by predators they could otherwise outrun, or getting tangled in the fences.

Predators may include cougars or other large cats, and coyotes.

Pronghorn antelope grazing but alert in in a field. - Colville Tribes F&W photo

Fish & Wildlife is making efforts to make fences more pronghorn friendly, giving them areas they can pass through, as well as removing the bottom wires of fences so the pronghorn can pass underneath.

"Once they find a spot to cross, they keep using it," Whitney said.

An effort is being made to inform the Department of Transportation, as well as area farmers, about pronghorn-friendly fence styles.

There haven't been complaints about the pronghorn eating farmers' crops, Whitney said, something that was a concern when the animals were first being introduced.

The Yakama tribe has also reintroduced pronghorn antelope back to Washington state, and if the fence problem is taken care of, the animals can once again thrive in the Columbia Basin.

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