MANSFIELD, Wash. — Pronghorn antelope were reintroduced to Washington by Indian tribes in recent years and now the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public comments to develop a plan to manage them.
“Pronghorn are some of the rarest and least-known large mammals in Washington. Historically, they’ve been a natural part of our ecosystems across the flat grassland areas of eastern Washington, though loss of habitat and changes in climate have made it difficult for a sustainable population to survive,” Rich Harris, WDFW game division section manager, said in a news release.
“I think they’re great to have on the landscape, and we’re working with local communities to produce an effective plan to manage them,” Harris said.
“No one asked us before if we wanted to have antelope. Not the Colvilles nor Fish and Wildlife and now all of a sudden we need a management plan. I need to know more,” said Allen Miller, a Leahy Junction rancher north of Mansfield in northern Douglas County.
In 2016 and 2017, the Colville Confederated Tribe reintroduced about 150 pronghorns on its reservation. They apparently swam the Columbia River to reach northern Douglas County.
Miller said he’s seen a few pronghorn but only since the Colvilles reintroduced them. He’s not aware of them being a problem for cattle or crops but said they haven’t been around long enough for him to know for sure.
WDFW says they coexist with livestock but can damage crops.
Unlike deer, pronghorn are not good jumpers and look to go under instead of over fences. WDFW is interested in pronghorn-friendly fencing where bottom strands of barbed wire are removed.
Hundreds of miles of cattle fencing are being rebuilt now in northern Douglas County from the Aug. 11, 2018, Grass Valley Fire that burned 75,535 acres of mostly private rangeland.
“The fencing is four strands with the lower strand to meet Natural Resources Conservation Service specifications for cost sharing,” Miller said. “It won’t be antelope friendly. After it’s built, no one is going to go out and redo it for Fish and Wildlife.”
Wade King, a Coulee City rancher who like Miller lost fencing and grazing in the fire, agreed with Miller that no one asked ranchers if they wanted pronghorn. King said he’s concerned about pronghorn spreading diseases and that he’s not convinced they are native.
“It will be just be more restrictions on us by trying to manage them,” he said.
Pronghorn are small, averaging 32 to 41 inches shoulder height. They are 4 to 5 feet long and weigh 70 to 150 pounds. They are second only to cheetah in speed. They can sustain high speeds longer than cheetah and are capable of 55 mph for half a mile and 35 mph for four miles. They like wide, open spaces where they can see predators a long ways off. They have large eyes and 320-degree field of vision.
Pronghorn are native to North America. They were basically extinct in Washington by 1900 and several attempts were made to reintroduce them.
In 2011, the Yakama Tribe translocated 99 pronghorn to the reservation from Nevada. In 2017, WDFW counted 121 pronghorn in Yakima, Benton and Klickitat counties. In October 2018, 50 more pronghorn were released into the area and in January 2019, 49 more.
A March 2019 department survey showed 248 pronghorn in eight groups. In a report, the department said the population appears to be growing naturally and that the department and Yakama Nation are working on management plans.
WDFW will hold meetings to present material and listen to the public at 7 p.m. June 3 at Pioneer Hall in Mansfield and 7 p.m. June 4 at Benton Rural Electric Association, 402 7th St., Prosser.
People may also give feedback online at: wdfw.wa.gov. Click on species & habitats. Scroll right-hand column of species news and important dates.