Oregon wildlife officials rounded up nearly 40 pronghorn antelope on the grounds of the former Umatilla chemical weapons depot and trucked them to Malheur County in the southeast corner of the state, where they were released on public land.
The action Tuesday was one of the remaining jobs in the long-running decommissioning of the depot near Hermiston, which once stored tons of nerve gas and mustard gas munitions. A seven-year project to incinerate bombs, rockets and storage tanks of chemical agents ended in 2011, but cleanup continues.
The pronghorn herd was an unusual feature of the otherwise grim 19,000-acre depot, where more than 1,000 concrete igloos held deadly chemical agents during the tense Cold War era. Antelope captured near Brothers in 1969 were placed on the depot to serve as a nursery population for other sites in eastern Oregon and in Nevada. The herd reached a peak population of 350 animals in 1986.
Decommissioning plans called for relocating the antelope rather than letting them remain on site, where they might damage valuable farmland once the depot fencing was removed. Workers with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife used a helicopter to herd the animals into a fenced enclosure, where they were captured, vaccinated, ear-tagged and put aboard a truck trailer.
Wildlife officials released eight adult males, 22 adult females and seven young antelope. One of the pronghorns captured during the roundup was euthanized because it was in poor condition, according to ODFW.