Early white visitors to the greater Yellowstone area reported thousands of pronghorns, particularly on the northern, more arid side of the park abutting the Gardiner Basin. The conditions were ripe for them to thrive: a geography suited to their unique physique and a terrain giving them an advantage over predators: they could outrun any other animal in the region, and they could maneuver through some difficult terrain, too. A passage of ritual for folks entering Yellowstone from the north was seeing some of the profligate antelope herd.
Today, there are a couple hundred pronghorn antelopes in the greater Yellowstone area, and seeing one isn’t automatic anymore. To help stem the tide, the folks with the National Parks Conservation Association came up with a remarkably simple, cheap and easy-to-implement change that didn’t require huge studies or government programs:
Expand the antelope’s grazing area by raising fences in the area.
With humans come fences. And the fences that keep cattle in the Paradise Valley keep the pronghorns out. The lack of access to winter grazing land is cited as a prime factor in the Yellowstone pronghorn antelope population dwindling, as is the lack of interaction with
The ingenious solution? Raise fences in the Gardiner Basin region. Antelopes won’t jump over a fence, but they are adept at going under a fence; they only need need 18 inches of clearance or so. Remove the bottom strand from a fence and the antelope will go right through.
The locals with the National Parks Conservation Association have been working with landowners to raise those fences as well as removing a jack fence encircling 35,000 acres in the Gallatin National Forest.
“If you even remove the just lowest strand, or alter it so it is 18 inches above ground, pronghorn antelope can move under it,” NPCA Yellowstone program director Patricia Dowd told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “It’s not a quick fix, but we’re hoping those small changes will help. We hope that pronghorns will instinctively remember how to migrate.”
We’ll know over the course of the next decade if the alterations work.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service.