Speak up for pronghorn in Washington

Speak up for pronghorn in Washington

Conservation Northwest / May 23, 2019 / Action Alert, Pronghorn, Restoring Wildlife, Sagelands, WDFW

WILD NW #292: Take a survey to show the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife your support for pronghorn.

Pronghorn antelope, a species native to central Washington’s arid shrub-steppe, are making a comeback. Due to habitat fragmentation and overhunting, pronghorn were gone from our state by the late 1800’s. But recent reintroduction programs led by the Colville Tribes and Yakama Nation returned these iconic ungulates to wildlands from the Tri-Cities to the Okanogan!

Now, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is asking people to take a survey and if possible, attend public meetings, to help develop a pronghorn management plan.

The survey includes brief questions on pronghorn, followed by a box for a short written response. Review background information below, copy and paste our suggested comments into the written section, and please customize your input if you can!

Take the pronghorn antelope management survey

Pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Suggested comments:

As a passionate Washington wildlife enthusiast, I strongly support the continued recovery of pronghorn in our state. This native species has been missing for far too long, and must be restored to sustainable levels where habitat remains. Now that pronghorn have regained a foothold thanks to tribal reintroduction programs, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife should prioritize efforts to restore this unique species to other areas of central Washington, including state public lands such as WDFW’s Big Bend, Wells, L.T. Murray, Whiskey Dick, Quilomene, Wenas, Desert, and other wildlife areas, as well as nearby Department of Natural Resources and federal lands. Well-connected pronghorn herds stretching from the Yakama Nation to the Colville Reservation should be the state’s goal, with particular emphasis on the large, fairly-contiguous state and federal shrub-steppe lands around Ellensburg and Yakima. Restoring pronghorn antelope here and on other public lands will have significant value for wildlife watchers, Indigenous peoples, outdoor recreationists and hunters, as well as our natural heritage and the ecology of Washington’s shrub-steppe. Please make pronghorn a priority! Thank you.

Prioritizing pronghorn

It’s important that Washingtonians show their support for the recovery of this unique species, which, while fairly common in other Western states, remains rare in Washington. Your comments will help make pronghorn a priority for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife!

In addition to asking the public to take an online pronghorn survey, WDFW is hosting two listening sessions for residents and other stakeholders to provide feedback on how to manage pronghorn in central Washington. At the meetings, WDFW staff will talk about Washington’s pronghorn, address issues and concerns, and identify opportunities for pronghorn management and recovery.

The two meetings will be on Monday, June 3 at Pioneer Hall in Mansfield in Douglas County, and on Tuesday, June 4 at the Benton County Rural Electric Association in Prosser. Both meetings will begin at 7:00 p.m.

An iconic species in North America’s plains and prairies, pronghorn are an important addition to the landscape, and will increase biodiversity and restore a missing part of shrub-steppe ecosystems.

Through our Sagelands Heritage Program, we’re supporting recovery by improving habitat connectivity from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to south-central Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills, which includes much of the pronghorn’s historic habitat in Washington. We’re also working with the Colville and Yakama tribes, the state, and other local stakeholders and landowners to provide resources and information to support coexistence with pronghorn.

Pronghorn antelope in sagebrush. Photo: Jennifer Strickland, USFWS

Background on Washington’s pronghorn:

  • Pronghorn are native to Washington, and historically ranged from around the Columbia River, east to the Mississippi, and south to Mexico. With Washington at the northwestern edge of their range, pronghorn were historically less numerous here than in other regions.
  • The state made five attempts to restore pronghorn to Washington in the mid-20th Century, though none were successful.
  • Recent reintroductions were conducted by the Yakama Nation in 2011 and 2019, and by the Colville Confederated Tribes in 2016 and 2017.
  • While the long-term success of these reintroductions is still being evaluated, small groups of pronghorn have expanded their range to off-reservation areas in Okanogan, Douglas, Grant, Yakima and Benton Counties. Reproduction has also been documented.
  • Pronghorn evolved in open landscapes, and use their amazing eyesight to spot predators and escape by running up to 60 miles per hour (the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere). Though they are fast runners, unlike deer or elk, they cannot jump well, making traditional barbed-wire fences a formidable barrier.
  • Pronghorn easily get tangled in barbed-wire fences, and often die from starvation. Wildlife-friendly fences with a smooth bottom wire that is higher off the ground can allow them to safely pass underneath. Clipping together the lower two wires can also work in a pinch.
  • Recovering pronghorn populations in Washington is important for the landscape, because they increase biodiversity and restore a part of the shrub-steppe ecosystem.
Yellowstone pronghorn herd. Photo: Chase Gunnell