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Montana to Study Pronghorn Migration

January 31, 2008.

From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks:

More than 20 northeast Montana pronghorn antelope are sporting high-tech jewelry that will allow biologists to monitor where they spend their summers and winters.

The antelope, 22 does, were captured north of Malta earlier this month, equipped with collars that receive Global Positioning System (GPS) signals, and then released. The daylong operation was accomplished with a net-gunner who fired leg-ensnaring mesh at the antelope from a highly maneuverable helicopter.

Photo: Montana FWP

The operation is designed to remotely track antelope across the landscape of northern Montana and southern Canada. The collars will store GPS coordinates and are programmed to fall off after a year. Biologists will then collect the collars, download the coordinates into a computer and build a map that shows the movements of each animal.

“We’re trying to determine important summer range, winter range and the migration corridors in between,” says Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife biologist Kelvin Johnson, who designed the study with assistance from the University of Calgary, University of Montana, the World Wildlife Fund and Canadian energy companies. “It’s a very habitat-oriented study and the results could lead to better conservation management strategies across the landscape.”

Antelope in northern Phillips County were chosen for the initial study because of anecdotal information that they spend their summers hundreds of miles to the north in Saskatchewan but winter on the benches and breaks around Whitewater. The study will determine the length of the migration between seasonal habitats and also determine if migration corridors are impaired. A similar investigation conducted along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border indicated antelope are sensitive to habitat fragmentation. The Montana study area includes part of the Bowdoin gas field, where energy development has the potential to fragment wildlife habitat.

“Next year we plan to again collar antelope in northern Phillips County but also to collar an equivalent number in northern Valley County, where energy development is minimal but habitat conditions are similar,” says Johnson. “We’re interested in seeing if we can detect any differences in antelope use between the two areas.”

Antelope studies elsewhere have indicated that pronghorns will travel as much as 300 to 400 miles between summer and winter ranges, the longest migrations of any big-game species in the Lower 48. As part of this four-year study, FWP collected hair and blood samples from the collared animals to assess genetic diversity and screen for disease.

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