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Drought Puts Pressure on Wyoming Pronghorn

August 30, 2012.

From Wyoming Game and Fish:

Due to the severe drought conditions, wildlife managers with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department are warning people that there will be losses to wildlife even with a somewhat mild winter.

“We are seeing very poor habitat conditions and very low numbers of pronghorn antelope during our initial classifications and observations,” said Lander Region Wildlife Supervisor Jason Hunter. “In some areas, the fawns we are seeing seem very small for this time of year and some adults appear to be in poor condition as well. As for the habitat, we are seeing some sagebrush plants losing their leaves. The plants are not dead, but they are in poor condition due to lack of water.”

Even species associated with mountainous terrain, such as elk and deer, have modified behavior and distribution due to dry conditions in the high country.

“We are concerned with the low fawn productivity, but are more worried about the poor condition of the habitat, lack of forage, and what could happen this winter,” Hunter said. “We have the responsibility to manage these pronghorn. We are confident that the number of doe/fawn antelope licenses issued is appropriate and it will be important to reduce the population before heading into the winter. At this point we may see losses to wildlife even with a somewhat mild winter.”

Losses in the population could be more pronounced without adequate doe/fawn harvest and there will likely be reduced antelope numbers in future years if the drought continues. Severe dry conditions are also going to impact the way archers hunt for pronghorn, and wildlife officials want hunters to practice fair chase.

“I know the majority of archers hunting antelope will hunt on water holes and commonly use blinds,” said Riverton Game Warden Brad Gibb. “This is a very effective technique.”

However, hunters may want to consider other techniques during this record-setting, dry, hot year. These animals have very few choices for water and a lot of activity around a water hole may keep other wildlife away for quite some time.

“It is more difficult and very challenging to spot a pronghorn, survey the terrain, and pull a sneak on it. To me, this would be a great challenge for hunters,” said Gibb.

If these dry conditions persist, water sources (springs, guzzlers, small streams, and stock ponds) will become fewer and farther between. Adults and newly born young will have to travel farther for water and compete with other wildlife and livestock for waterholes. Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts can show additional compassion this season by not camping near waterholes. This simple act can reduce the stress on wildlife and give them a better chance of surviving this drought period.

Gibb recommends hunters and campers camp away from established game trails that lead to waterholes. Recognize that wildlife will seek water in the early morning and evening hours and lay down during the hot daytime periods. Respect their need for space and don’t follow wildlife as they move away. Finding adequate forage in this drought period will also be a challenge for wildlife. 

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