OLYMPIA — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife “is very interested in working to minimize agricultural damage” from pronghorn antelope, says a department official leading the effort to draft a management plan for the animal.
“I don’t even like to call it a plan. I call it an approach document. Yes, broader than a plan. It won’t be highly detailed,” Richard Harris, a WDFW game division section manager, told Capital Press.
Harris oversees department policy regarding bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose and pronghorn. Pronghorn are popularly known as pronghorn antelope.
The document will be written in coming months and released at the end of fall or during the winter, Harris said. It will discuss what the department’s position should be “to help folks whether they want to allow them or keep them out” of their property, he said. It may discuss fencing, disease and hunting.
About 25 people attended a meeting department officials held about the pronghorn June 3 in Mansfield, Wash., in upper Douglas County and about 30 were at a meeting the next night 160 miles to the south in Prosser.
“We did hear some support and some folks are unhappy. They felt translocation (of pronghorn into the state) by the tribes shouldn’t have happened and are concerned agriculture could be negatively impacted,” Harris said.
Ranchers are concerned about pronghorn trampling wheat fields by bedding down in them, he said.
“I would summarize concerns that folks are not all that up in arms about current numbers but are concerned should that number increase,” Harris said.
Jim Hemmer, a rancher, said he attended the Mansfield meeting and that six ranchers were there, as was one Colville Confederated Tribe representative. The rest in attendance were WDFW employees.
“I think they did the meeting just to make us feel good. They said they wanted to work with us but they should have done that before they turned them loose,” Hemmer said.
While Harris has said it’s “great” to have pronghorn in the state, he told Capital Press he did not ask or suggest the tribes bring them in and that the department did not help. The department got involved, he said, when it was clear pronghorn were spreading out from the reservations.
But Hemmer said the department refers to the tribes as their partners and that usually partners know what each other is doing.
Hemmer said he suspects pronghorn have damaged some of his fencing and that he’s concerned about growing numbers leading to restrictions on his grazing leases with the state.
He said he’s concerned about Colville plans to bring more pronghorn in this fall because the release site is right across the Columbia River from his grazing grounds.
“The first bunch that were released were on our side in three to four days. The river didn’t stop them long. I would have thought it would have,” he said.
Hemmer said pronghorn have been spotted some 70 miles to the south in Palisades.
Small and fast, pronghorn are native to North America and believed to have become extinct in Washington by 1900. State Game Department attempts to reintroduce them in 1938-40, 1950 and 1968 failed.
In 2011, the Yakama Tribe moved 99 pronghorn to the reservation from Nevada. By 2017, the number grew to 121 in Yakima, Benton and Klickitat counties, according to a WDFW count.
Fifty more were brought in last October and 49 more in January. A March 2019 WDFW survey showed 248 pronghorn in eight groups in the Yakima area.
The Colville Confederated Tribe reintroduced about 150 pronghorn to its reservation in 2016 and 2017, bringing the statewide total to about 400.
Given that previous attempts at reintroduction failed, it is not a given that current efforts will succeed, Harris said.
“It could be they can’t hang on. We don’t really know,” he said.
He said pronghorn have tiny teeth designed more for eating herbs, weeds and flowers that they probably prefer to crops. Since their defense from predators is running, they like wide open spaces where they can see long distances, he said. They avoid forests and probably won’t bother orchards and vineyards much, he said.
Beside the meetings, the department has received about 400 comments from a questionnaire on the WDFW website that will remain open until mid-July, he said.