December 31, 2013 at 5:57 pm #1888MikeKeymaster
North Dakota cancels pronghorn antelope season over dwindling numbers
By BRIAN GEHRING Bismarck Tribune
Posted: Monday, July 12, 2010 11:45 pm
North Dakota’s pronghorn antelope season is being canceled this year. Back-to-back harsh winters have severely impacted the number of animals, dropping them to about 6,500 statewide.
This week pronghorn antelope hunters would have found out if their application for the gun season was successful. They weren’t — for any antelope hunter — gun or bow.
Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the department will not recommend a hunting season this fall because of back-to-back tough winters and subsequent poor reproduction.
Kreil said department biologists recently completed their annual pronghorn population survey, which shows 37 percent fewer animals than last year and 50 percent fewer than 2008.
Bruce Stillings, the department’s big game biologist in the Dickinson district, said the statewide estimate of pronghorns is down to 6,500. He said the numbers have been at more than 10,000 antelope since 2003, including two years when there were more than 15,000 animals.
“Our numbers are declining with few yearlings observed due to poor production in 2009, which was the lowest documented on record, followed by last year’s tough winter,” Stillings said.
“Production was better this year, but still below long-term averages in all management regions.”
There are 15 pronghorn antelope hunting units in the state, primarily west of the Missouri River.
The exceptions are a portion of a unit near Washburn north to the south shore of Lake Audubon and part of unit northwest of Williston.
The season would have opened Oct. 1. Gun licenses are issued by a weighted lottery system and last year, 2,300 gun tags were available.
Archery tags are available over the counter. Kreil said just more than 300 bow tags will be recalled and refunds issued.
Applicants who have accumulated preference points will maintain those points, Kreil said.
Stillings said the pronghorns in the northern tier of the state are doing better than other herds in the south because they had to deal with only one severe winter.
He said the aerial surveys are in early July, after the young-of-the year are on the ground, so the counts are fairly accurate. “We actual count individual animals so there is no extrapolating,” Stillings said.
Kreil said there is no “magic number” as far as pronghorns are concerned as to when the season will reopen. “It is not a specific number, it’s the trend of of the population and the age structure,” Kreil said.
He said of the animals that are out there, there are young antelope and older ones without a lot in the middle: “It’s really out of whack.”
Antelope are more free-ranging than are other big game species like deer and very susceptible to extreme weather conditions.
They will, if conditions allow, migrate south to better grounds but for the most part will not cross man-made barriers like interstate highways.
Kreil said there is no doubt the recent energy boom in the western part of the state also has affected the population of antelope.
“We will be watching closely for any negative implications it may have on pronghorns,” he said.
It is not the first time pronghorn season has been canceled because of low numbers. Three consecutive harsh winters from 1977 to 1980 resulted in closed seasons from 1978 to 1981. Most recently, Kreil said the severe winter of 1997-98 left only three units with huntable populations.
“We lost 75 percent of the antelope in the state that winter,” he said.
Stillings said a mild winter this year will help the numbers rebound, leading to less stress to improved reproductive success next spring.
“The last thing pronghorn need is another severe winter,” Stillings said. “A mild winter will increase adult survival and leave females in good condition for fawning.”
(Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 or email@example.com.)
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