Wyoming researchers study declining pronghorn population
University of Wyoming scientists in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management and Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit are collaborating with a number of organizations in one of the largest studies of pronghorn and their declining population numbers.
Last November, 130 adult female pronghorn in three study areas in the Red Desert of southwest Wyoming were captured and released after ultrasounds, blood and fecal samples and weights were collected and GPS or VHF transmitter collars affixed to each animal.
Ecosystem science and management associate professor Jeff Beck said data collection will continue through November 2015 and will compare anthropogenic and environmental factors potentially affecting pronghorn in the three study areas.
He said two of the areas are directly influenced by oil and gas field development and the third acts as the control of the study. “We will also be examining the effects of environmental conditions such as drought on these animals,” noted Beck.
“Wamsutter and Baggs are both places with energy development,” he said, “but to look at an area without energy development we have another portion of the Red Desert, northwest of Wamsutter, where there is no energy development, or at least very little.”
Beck compared pronghorn and sage grouse. Though not to the same level, declining populations have made pronghorn a species of concern. Just because we tend to see them all of the time doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by changes in the habitats in which they live, he said.
“Animals might move more in the gas fields because they’re avoiding trucks and things like that, which is an energy expenditure, where in other areas they don’t, which could cost them – could be a deficit for survival and reproduction,” said Beck. “Now we have the ability with GPS technology to answer some of those questions.” F