North Dakota Pronghorn Population Remains Low, NDGF Recommends No Season

North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists recently
completed the 2011 pronghorn population survey, which revealed the
statewide population is 30 percent lower than last year. Therefore,
the Game and Fish Department is recommending the pronghorn hunting
season remain closed in 2011.

Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor in Dickinson, said three
severe winters with high adult mortality rates followed by poor
fawn production has dropped the statewide population estimate to
approximately 4,500 pronghorn. Until last year when the population
fell to 6,500 pronghorn, the statewide population had been at or
above 10,000 animals since 2003, including two years with more than
15,000.

“Our numbers are declining with few young animals observed due to
poor production in 2009 and 2010,” Stillings said. “To make matters
worse, production this year was the lowest documented since
biologists began surveying in the late 1950s.”

The aerial survey is flown in late June/early July after
young-of-the-year are born and visible. Five airplanes covered more
than 11,000 square miles of aerial transects within pronghorn
habitat.

Survey results indicate the population in the western Bowman and
southern Slope management regions are doing the best, while
pronghorn in the northern badlands and northern Slope areas are in
the poorest condition. Pronghorn in all management regions are
well-below population objectives.

Northern Great Plains pronghorn are susceptible to dramatic
population declines due to extreme winter conditions, Stillings
said. The last three years have been a worst case scenario for
pronghorn in North Dakota, similar to 1977-79 when three
consecutive severe winters hit the region, resulting in closed
seasons from 1978-1981.

“The last thing pronghorn needed was another severe winter,”
Stillings said. “A much needed mild winter would increase adult
survival and leave females in good condition for fawning.”

Biologists will continue to monitor pronghorn numbers in the
future, and will reopen the season when the population returns to a
level capable of withstanding a harvest.

The 2011 pronghorn season will be closed to both gun and archery
hunters. Applicants who have accumulated preference points will
maintain their current points.

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