Pronghorn still recovering from 2011 winterhelena.com
FWP officials emphasized that one year of good fawn recruitment won't recover the state's population after high die-offs following the record-setting winter of 2011.Up to 70 percent of some populations were lost in northeastern and eastern Montana, which were hardest hit, but higher-than-usual die-off was reported statewide. Deep snow kept antelope from reaching food, such as sage brush and horizontal juniper.
This spring, there's reason for optimism based on the mild winter, good grass production and the absence of extreme dry conditions, said Quentin Kujala, sections coordinator for FWP's Wildlife Bureau. Surveys are conducted in July because fawns are standing up by then and out of seclusion, making them easier to see.
"If in fact that potential is realized, then this spring represents the first significant step back to those larger population levels of animals that were in place prior to that devastating winter of last year," Kujala said.
Pronghorn are abundant across much of Montana, but hunting tags have been markedly reduced, and more reductions are possible this year, because of the 2011 winter.It will take five to 10 years before populations in northeastern Montana begin to recover, Johnson said. He's not expecting the number of hunting tags to increase in northeastern Montana this year.
Next Thursday, members of the FWP Commission will consider a proposal to decrease either-sex archery hunting licenses from 5,600 to 4,700 in regions 3 through 7, which are based in Great Falls, Billings, Bozeman, Glasgow and Miles City.
They also will consider proposals to decrease either-sex hunting licenses from 6,500 to 3,000, and doe/fawn licensed from 500 to 100, in Region 7, which is based in Miles City.
Both proposals are responses to continued low numbers of pronghorn due to the harsh winter of 2011, Kujala said.
Ironically, the heavy snow that led to the high die-off helped those animals that did survive by creating what Johnson described as "incredible" habitat, which allowed them to put on fat heading into the winter of 2012, which was mild, Johnson said."So the adults survived very well," Johnson said. "When we end up having good habitat we can expect to have a pretty good fawn crop."Fawning occurs in the second half of May.
Linda Alfson, a nursing assistant who lives east of Fairfield, said she could see twin fawns in an alfalfa field from her kitchen window May 18. The fawns were just hours old.Seeing them was an awesome experience, she said."I was pretty tickled," she said.Last spring, hardly any fawns were born in northeastern Montana, Johnson said.
Conditions were so harsh that pronghorn migrated from Canada and northern Montana to locations south of Fort Peck Reservoir. Then in the spring, hundreds of animals were seen lining the south shores trying to return north after the lake thawed, with many drowning while trying to swim for the other side.
Migrations didn't occur this winter, said Randy Matchett, a senior wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."I heard no reports of antelope along the shore line," he said. "That also may be partly because populations were so depressed."
According to Johnson and Kujala, current estimates for antelope numbers won't be known until the July aerial surveys. Estimates provided to the Tribune by the World Wildlife Fund in 2008 had about 80,000 antelope roaming the Montana prairie.