Tracking and studies were conducted by the Yakama Nation until the radio collars ceased transmitting, making it extremely difficult to find and count groups of Pronghorn, especially after they dispersed off of wintering grounds during spring green-up. The health of the herd became subject to wild speculation with little proof as to how they were actually doing. It became apparent that a survey needed to be conducted to establish a new baseline of Pronghorn numbers.
An unprecedented cooperative effort was undertaken between WDFW, the Yakama Nation, and state Safari Club chapters to conduct such a survey. The survey consisted of both aerial and ground components that encompassed parts of three Counties and the Yakama Reservation.
Unseasonably warm weather and early animal dispersal was a challenge, however, a successful survey was conducted and the official report, jointly written by WDFW and Yakama Nation, will be posted in the near future on WDFW and Yakama Nation websites. Publishing the entire eight page report is beyond the scope of this newsletter, so below is a quick summary of the survey results, with quotation marks annotating those statements taken directly from the report.
Please note that of the six individual SCI members mentioned by name in the survey report, four of those individuals are WWC Board members; Joe Greenhaw, Harris Emmons, Greg McClure, and Doug Barrett. Additionally, Mike Price, from Northwest Chapter SCI, was inadvertently omitted from the report, but was present and formed part of the ground survey team.
The report shows that Pronghorns have increased moderately in number. “During our aerial survey we detected 15 pronghorn groups for a total of 106 pronghorns; 49 were seen on the Yakama reservation and 57 were seen off the reservation. “ Pre-survey scouting had consistently shown at least 3 groups that could not be located again on the dates of the survey, but were known by all parties to be present, so a few of those known animals were included in the final count while a few were not. “Combining the ground observations with those from the aerial surveys, we obtained a minimum population estimate of 132 pronghorns.” We know that we did not see all of the pronghorn that are out there, and if some additional known animals had been included in the final count, we could probably safely say there are 146+ animals, although the official new baseline is 132.
It should be noted that 22 coyotes were spotted during the survey, and coyotes are known, “… effective predators of pronghorn adults…and fawns.” Part of the conclusion of the joint report states that, “…this recovery remains fragile.” It concludes that human-induced mortality must remain low, that predation by coyotes is an important factor, and that, “…the population will require at least a few more years of continued growth before recreational harvest should be considered.”
Again, please read the full report, as it is very detailed as to history, methodology, references, and conclusion. This historic reintroduction and subsequent cooperative survey shows what can happen when agencies and organizations come together and work for common goals, and it shows the continuing involvement and monitoring by your WWC and its membership.
Submitted by; Douglas H. Barrett, WWC BOD